History of Welding

Welding is so important in society it would be almost impossible to go through your day without using something produced by welding. The car you drive, the buildings you work and shop in, and even electronic devices contain welded parts. Let’s look at how this technology has developed throughout history.

Since the dawn of civilization, man has sought to join metals to make tools, structures, equipment, and weapons. From simple forge welding techniques used by early blacksmiths to modern advancements in laser welding and robotics, the history of welding is a testament to the ingenuity of mankind. By exploring humanity’s pursuit to shape matter to suit its existence, we can appreciate the impact this craft has had in forming the world around us.

Early History of Welding


The earliest known examples of welding are small golden boxes made with pressure-welded lap joints that date back to the Bronze Age. Archaeologists have also found jewelry, eating utensils, and weapons from the Bronze Age dating back more than 2000 years.

Iron tools and weapons go back to about 1000 B.C.E. The Egyptians and people in the Eastern Mediterranean region would heat iron ore, pound out the defects, and then hammer the iron into the desired shape. It was around this period that this specialized craftsman became commonly known as the blacksmith. However, the exact year or era when the term “blacksmith” emerged is difficult to pinpoint precisely, as it likely evolved gradually over time. This term remained in common usage in many societies through the late 19th century.


Through the Middle Ages, blacksmiths began to perfect the art of using charcoal in a furnace to heat iron, pound out any imperfections, join the pieces using lap joints, and hammer pieces together until they achieved the desired bond.

Blacksmiths soon became indispensable in villages and cities, producing commonly-used items like nails, door hinges and locks, horseshoes, and other useful tools. One of the largest welds produced during the early middle ages was the Iron Pillar of Delhi in India, constructed in 310 A.D. It stands approximately 25 feet tall with a base of 16 inches in diameter. Additional pillars were erected in other locations in India. A few large weldments made by the Romans have been found throughout Europe as well. 

The Iron Pillar of Delhi, shown in photo below, stands as a lasting monument to early welding technology.


Welding in the Industrial Revolution, 1760 to 1840


Forge welding was the primary welding technology until well into the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution led to the discovery of electric arcs and electrodes –  forever altering the welding trade. In 1801, Sir Humphrey Davy discovered that an arc could be created with a high-voltage electric circuit by bringing the two terminals close to each other. Davy discovered this arc produced a bright light that produced intense heat, which could be initiated, maintained, and controlled depending on the voltage and type of terminals used. 

Little to no practical use came of the discovery of the electrical arc until many years later. In the early 1860s, Henry Wilde used an electric arc to melt small pieces of iron. In 1865, Wilde received a patent for his process — the first patent related to electric arc welding


The Industrial Revolution saw breakthroughs in welding that facilitated the construction of railways, bridges, ships, and buildings. The capability to join metal safely and securely enabled the rapid expansion of transportation networks and steel construction, which led to the urban development and economic growth that characterized the Industrial Revolution. 

19th-Century Developments


The image above is of an early arc welding process patent.

Also in 1881, a French electrical inventor patented a carbon-arc welding method which he used to weld lead in manufacturing lead–acid batteries.


What we recognize today as conventional welding can be traced back to the discovery of acetylene gas by Edmund Davy, cousin of the aforementioned Sir Humphrey Davy. Oxy-fuel welding added a level of efficiency and mobility to welding operations that was not possible with forge welding techniques. In 1903, two inventors — Edmond Fouche and Charles Picard — discovered that combining acetylene with oxygen released enough heat to weld metals together. This led them to develop the gas welding and cutting process. From its inception until the late 1920s, oxy-fuel welding became the most commonly used method to weld metals. Referred to as oxy-acetylene cutting (OAC), oxy-acetylene welding (OAW), and brazing, these techniques are still widely utilized by professional welders and hobbyists in various metalworking applications such as shops, farms, and more.

Image below shows oxy-acetylene welding being performed.

20th-Century Advancements

In 1907, commercial arc welding came to America by way of two German welders, who had been working on the metal-arc process in Europe. The two formed the Siemund-Wienzell Electric Welding Company and patented a metal-arc welding method. Shortly after, another German company — Enderlein Electric Welding Company — also started welding operations in the U.S. Inevitably, conflict ensued over patent disputes. After opposing an early settlement agreement, the Siemund-Wienzell company sued when Enderlein began using the same metal-arc process. 

In the suit, Enderlein produced a copy of the Mechanic’s Handbook, published in England in 1888, which contained a woodcut image unmistakably showing a shop using the metal-arc welding process. Its publication predated any patents and therefore cast doubt on the validity of any existing patents. This paved the way for metal-arc welding in the United States. By 1917, four manufacturers of arc welding equipment were well established in the United States, one of which — the Lincoln Electric Company — remains one of the largest manufacturers of welding tools and equipment.


In early arc welding, it soon became apparent that the electrode was the single biggest limiting factor. The earliest electrodes were bare wire of either Swedish or Norwegian origin and generally produced weak and brittle welds. Overheating the metal and lack of protection from atmospheric contaminants led to welds with multiple defects and little consistency. 

Oscar Kjellberg of Sweden became the first to receive a patent for creating a coated electrode, which he produced using a light coating of organic or mineral materials. The early coatings, however, did little more than stabilize the arc and offered minimal shielding to protect the molten weld puddle. It was not until 1912 that Arthur Percy Strohmenger obtained a patent for a heavily-covered electrode. However, these early coated electrodes were slow to gain acceptance due to the high cost of production.


1932 saw innovation in early attempts at mechanized wire-feed welding. A heavy granular flux was placed on the seam ahead of the carbon electrode. The heat generated by the welding process melted the flux into a slag, which shielded the molten weld from the contaminating effects of oxygen and nitrogen in the air. This development was so successful that the penstocks for the TVA and water conduit for the Los Angeles Water Authority were welded in this way, which came to be known as the submerged arc welding process (SAW).


In response to the aircraft industry’s demand to weld on magnesium, the first gas-shielded welding process was developed using a tungsten electrode and helium as a shielding gas. This process came to be called the Heliarc welding process, a term still commonly, although somewhat erroneously, used today. When argon was found to be a useful shielding gas, the American Welding Society said that, because helium was no longer the only shielding gas, “Heliarc” was no longer an accurate description. As a result, the term gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) or tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding was adopted.

Initially, the tungsten electrode overheated, transferring particles of the electrode into the weld puddle and resulting in a defect we refer to today as tungsten inclusions. Researchers then discovered it was possible to correct this problem by making the electrode negative. This resulted in a highly effective method for welding stainless steel but proved poorly suited to magnesium and aluminum welding applications. The solution was to use high-frequency, high-voltage AC superimposed over the existing current to stabilize the arc. This method became the main process in the welding industry for welding aluminum and magnesium.

The image above shows an early sketch of the basic principles of the TIG or GTAW welding process.


The GTAW or TIG welding method proved unsuitable for welding thicker sections of highly conductive materials, due to the tendency of thicker materials to act as heat sinks. Heat sink occurs when heat is dissipated away from the weld areas. To counter this effect, a consumable wire electrode was substituted for the non-consumable tungsten electrode. This process, developed in 1948, became known as the metal inert gas (MIG) method or, more formally, the gas metal arc welding (GMAW) process.

Welding During the World Wars


The outbreak of World War I led to a significant increase in the use of welding, such as for the demand for transport ships. Before the war, ships were built using the (slower) riveting process. Wartime demand led to an urgent need for a faster, more efficient mode of production. A committee tasked with solving the problem concluded that resistance welding was the answer — a process invented by Professor Elihu Thomson. To gather information, the committee visited England and found that ships were being built not with resistance welding but with arc welding. 

Due to gas shortages, the British resorted to employing arc welding processes, utilizing both bare and covered metal electrodes in the construction of bombs, mines, and torpedoes, even beginning to construct a ship with a fully-welded hull.

The committee returned to America as supporters of arc welding. However, a debate arose from proponents of gas and resistance welding methods challenging their stance. Amidst heated discussions,  a dramatic incident made the benefits of arc welding public. German ships interned at New York Harbor had been scuttled by their crews at the outbreak of the war to prevent the Allies from using them in the war effort. The damage was so extensive it soon became evident that a highly effective repair process was necessary to put the ships back into use immediately. The Navy, in collaboration with welding experts from the railroad industry, recommended making the repairs with the arc welding method. The ships quickly returned to service, proving the potential of arc welding.


Applications and advancements in arc welding grew rapidly. By the onset of World War II, arc welding had emerged as the dominant welding process. Over the next few years, welding became increasingly important in shipbuilding.

In 1930, the first all-welded merchant ship was built in Charleston, South Carolina. During this period, stainless steel gained traction in metalworking; however, its welding process posed notable challenges. This was primarily due to the hydrogen content in commonly used electrode coverings, leading to porosity issues in the welds. Low-hydrogen coverings were developed to address this issue. Low-hydrogen electrodes also improved the quality of weld joints in armor plates. 

Contemporary Welding Techniques


Laser beam welding (LBW) utilizes the heat generated when a laser beam is focused on a joint. It is possible both with and without a shielding gas and with or without pressure.

There are several advantages to using laser welding. For instance, it enables the user to weld at high speeds with minimal distortion and a relatively small heat-affected zone. Laser welding is common in automotive, electronics, and medical applications, due to its capability to produce high-quality welds with minimal distortion. 


Friction stir welding is a solid-state welding process. (Solid-state welding is when a bond is achieved between metals by applying pressure below the melting temperatures of the filler and base metals.) It typically involves rapidly spinning one piece against another to generate heat. Reaching a high temperature leads to pressure that forces the pieces together, forming the welded joint.


Electron beam welding achieves coalescence with a concentrated beam of electrons at high velocity, which then produces heat in the workpiece. The heat generated is sufficient to melt the base metal and filler metal in the joint.

Electron beam welding is similar to TIG welding. It was developed in the early 1950s to address the atomic energy industry’s need to weld on refractory and reactive materials. It provides the user with high welding speed and minimal distortion, making it ideal for high-strength welds requiring a high degree of precision. Aerospace, automotive, and medical applications use electron beam welding extensively.

Influence of Welding on Society and Industry


The welding industry has had a profound impact on the industry by enabling people to join metals in all sorts of configurations in a practical, safe, and economical manner. Many of the bridges, buildings, and modes of transportation we enjoy today would not be possible without the innovation and advancements in welding technology.


Welding has enabled the automotive industry to build cars and trucks with different materials, make stronger and lighter frames, and make vehicles more fuel-efficient. Advancements in laser welding, resistance welding, and automated robotics welding technology enable speed and efficiency, leading to vehicles that are both safe and affordable for consumers.


The energy industry uses welding in many ways — from cross-country pipelines and tank storage facilities to refineries and other modes of transporting oil and gas.  Advances in metallurgy and welding enable the building of various pipelines and facilities that transport oil and gas safely and efficiently, bringing a vital resource to people all over the world. This, in turn, allows people to drive, heat their homes, cook, and do so many other things that would be impossible without welding technology. 

For renewable energy sources like wind and solar, welding is used in the building of solar panels, wind turbine towers, and related support structures.


The aerospace industry has unique needs, which include joining lightweight materials to withstand extreme conditions. Techniques like laser, electron beam, and friction stir welding join materials like aluminum, titanium, and composites with tremendous strength and precision. The integrity of the welds plays a vital role in the structure of aircraft, meaning welding is a critical component in aerospace and aviation safety. 

The Future of Welding

The welding industry is likely to experience more innovation and transformation, driven by advancements in technology in response to changing industry demands. 


Automation and robotics are increasingly being integrated into the welding industry to improve efficiency and precision in manufacturing. It is possible to integrate robotics systems with other automation technologies (like vision and artificial intelligence) to further enhance the capabilities of automated welding systems.  


In recent years, virtual reality has been used to train welders and enhance their skills. 

As the welding industry continues to evolve, it is likely to see further advancements in automation, digitalization, and sustainability to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world. Welders who adapt and commit to learning new techniques will be vital for the continued success of the welding industry.



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