Born on 14th of April 1678
Died on 8th of March 1717
Though he died aged just 39, Abraham Darby I made three massive contributions to the Industrial Revolution: cast iron and brass sand mouldings; establishing the use of coke in blast furnace production of iron; and founding a dynasty that would see his grandson Abraham III building the iconic Ironbridge over the Severn near Telford.
Darby was the son of a Quaker farmer who supplemented his income with locksmith work. The supportive and innovative Quakers produced many of the great entrepreneurs of the day. Born near Sedgley in Staffordshire Darby worked in Quaker enterprises in Birmingham and then around 1700 in Bristol. There he established a company to attack the Dutch domination of the brass cooking pot market, work that led him to cast iron as an alternative – one of his collaborators devised the sand mould method of casting, which Darby patented.
Disagreements in Bristol, and Darby’s eye for an opportunity, saw him move in 1708 to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire: a foundry was available cheaply for him to purchase and customise, and the area had high quality coal (low sulphur) valuable in smelting.
A distant relation had dabbled with using coke for smelting rather than charcoal (becoming harder to get, and as a soft material limiting furnace size). By 1709 Darby had produced coke-smelted iron suitable for casting, and other uses (material usable for wrought-iron took longer), high quality of his metal that meant Darby iron was chosen for the demanding Newcomen steam engines from 1712 onwards – facilitating the development of that new aspect of industrialisation.
He died in Madeley in Shropshire on May 5 1717, but his work continued via his eldest son Abraham II.
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