Born in Lancaster, England, in 1740, Henry Cort was one of many individuals who were central to the development of the iron and steel industries before and during the Industrial Revolution.
From 1765 Cort developed an interest in iron while he was in the Royal Navy, where he was in charge of improving wrought-iron ordnance. During this time, he was able to accumulate funds needed to start his own business.
Iron working had been a laborious process that required hammering to shape and purify the metals. After Cort established a foundry at Fareham, England, he developed a method of creating iron bars with grooved rollers, a process he patented in 1783.
The following year, he patented a puddling process in which the carbon in the iron was separated by stirring molten pig iron in a reverberating furnace. The action of the air in the decarburization causes pure iron to form. Cort had used to his advantage the high-grade ores mined at Dannemara, near Uppsala, Sweden. After the slag was removed, the molten iron was then applied to Cort's grooved rollers.
Both inventions were little more than improvements over what already existed. Cort's original contribution came with the combination of the two processes, which made iron more readily available throughout Britain and quadrupled production in 20 years.
Although insightful in metallurgy, Cort had little success in business. He made a fateful mistake when he established a partnership with Samuel Jellicoe at Gosport, just south of Fareham. Jellicoe's father was a dishonest naval official who embezzled public funds for use in the partnership. Although Cort had nothing to do with the crime, he took the brunt of the blame for it. The British Admiralty forced Cort to repay the monies and denied him the rights to his patents. Cort's competitors made full use of the patents, leaving Cort with nothing but a small pension. Cort died in Hampstead, London, England, in 1800.