Materialising Sheffield - re-presenting the past  
steel ingots

Benjamin Huntsman – Early Life

Benjamin Huntsman and the world of eighteenth-century science

Early Eighteenth-Century Steel Production


Industrial Secrecy and Espionage

6. Opposition of the Sheffield cutlers

7. Huntsman’s works at Handsworth and Attercliffe

Swedish Visits to the Attercliffe Works

The evolution of the Attercliffe Works in the later 18th Century



1. Benjamin Huntsman – Early Life

Huntsman's success was due not only to his practical background and untiring experimentation, but also to the context in which he lived. Born in 1704 into a Quaker family of Epworth in Lincolnshire, Benjamin Huntsman is said to have shown an uncommon aptitude for mechanical problems, apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a local clock-maker.

Some time before 1725, Huntsman left the town of his birth to set up business in nearby Doncaster where he quickly became successful as a watch and clockmaker, even being trusted with the maintenance of the town clock.

By 1739 he was renting a fairly substantial house in the High Street, and bought the freehold two years later for £210. His successful business as clockmaker probably allowed him the time and resources to experiment on a small scale, and it is generally believed that it was in Doncaster that he began his first tentative experiments with steel.

What motivated Huntsman to develop an improved type of steel is not known. The most popular theory states that he was dissatisfied with the quality of steel then available for watch-springs which were then usually made of German steel.

However, his descendants noted that "he had less to do with watches than with clocks, smoke-jacks, roasting-jacks, and other mechanical contrivances", and that his interest in steel was more likely the result of scientific curiosity. He was known in the neighbourhood as a competent medic and oculist, and for his philanthropic use of these skills. In a letter to Huntsman, Matthew Boulton -- proprietor of the Soho Works at Birmingham and founder member of the Lunar Society -- paid tribute to the inventor's "philosophick spirit". Huntsman's early correspondence with Boulton, who later developed the rotary steam engine with his partner James Watt, places him tantalisingly close to the intellectual hub of the world's first industrial nation.





illustration:18th Century Spectacles