Sir Robert Abbott Hadfield (1858 – 1940)

Sir Robert Hadfield was one of the most influential figures in the European steel industry in the twentieth century. 

He was born in Sheffield where, in 1872, his father established the Hecla steelworks at Attercliffe, which specialised in making large steel castings, particularly hydraulic cylinders and artillery projectiles, that were then a novelty in Britain. He decided to join the family business rather than attend university, but quickly displayed an aptitude for metallurgical research. In 1882 he discovered an effective form of manganese steel whose hardness made it particularly suited for use in crushing machinery and in tramway and railway crossings. Two years later he obtained a patent for silicon steel.

His father died in 1888 and he became the head of Hadfields Steel Foundry Co, which soon afterwards became a limited company, which became Britain’s leading manufacturer of armour piercing projectiles. The company moved in 1897 to the East Hecla Works at Tinsley, and, after expansion during the First World War, employed 13,000 people and had a capital valuation of ?1.9 million by 1918.

Hadfield was knighted in 1908, became a baronet in 1917, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1909. He was honoured in France and the United States for his achievements in metallurgy, and hosted many international scientific conferences in Britain.

His new ventures in the 1920s, the Bean Car Company in the Black Country and a foundry in Ohio, were far from successful.