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Carpenter, Henry Cort Harold

Carpenter, Henry Cort Harold

(b Bristol, England, 6 February 1875; d. Swansea, South Wales, 13 September 1940),


Carpenter was the second son of William Lant Carpenter and Annie Viret, the grandson of the naturalist William Benjamin Carpenter, and the great-great-grandson of Henry Cort, who invented the puddling process for iron. His intellectual development was influenced by his uncle, the theologian J. Estlin Carpenter. He was educated at St. Paul’s School and at Eastbourne College and took a degree in science at Merton College, Oxford, in 1896. In the company of Frederick Soddy he took a Ph.D. at Leipzig in organic chemistry, a subject he then pursued with W. H. Perkin at Owens College, Manchester, until 1901, when he was appointed head of the chemistry and metallurgy departments of the National Physical Laboratory. From 1905, the year of his marriage to Ethel Mary Lomas, his interests were confined to metallurgy.

His subsequent career was distinguished by original contributions to the application of physicochemical principles to the metallurgy of iron and steel and of nonferrous metal alloys, as well as by his promotion of corporate professional action among metallurgists. A recurrent theme in his work is the changes that take place in metals under repeated or cyclic temperature changes. He perceived this first as a technical problem but later isolated it as fundamental in metal structure. In 1906 he elucidated the process of embrittlement of nickel wire used as the heating element in electric furnaces and first observed in this the crystalline growth that was later to form the basis of one of his most important studies. Also in 1906 he was appointed to a new chair of metallurgy at the Victoria University of Manchester. There he solved with Rugan the problem of the “growth” of cast iron on repeated heating and cooling, a matter sensationally brought to notice by the San Francisco fire, in which buildings incorporating cast iron supports failed to recover their shape on cooling. Carpenter and Rugan showed that this was mainly due to oxidation within the body of the casting brought about by oxygen that had penetrated via the disseminated graphite. Another field of technology that benefited from Carpenter’s study was hydraulic mechanics. The erratic behavior of copper-aluminum alloys, sometimes able to resist high pressures and sometimes—unpredictably—unable to, proved to be traceable to the history of the individual casting.

In 1913 Carpenter was appointed to a chair at the Royal School of Mines in London. Among his work there was that (with L. Taverner) on cold-rolled aluminum sheet, a possible forerunner of his work, begun in 1920 with Miss Elam, on the production of aluminum and the study of its remarkable properties;this was the beginning of a new era in the study not only of this metal but of metallography in general.

Almost as important as his experimental work was his activity in professional and learned bodies. The Iron and Steel Institute had existed since 1869, but the study of nonferrous metals was not as well organized. Carpenter was a leader in the founding of the Institute of Metals, serving it in office for many years and as president from 1918 to 1920. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1918 and was knighted in 1929. He was president of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy in 1934 and of the Iron and steel Institute (1935–1936). He was a member of many committees, notably the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, when it was establishing its influential role in British scientitle life; he served as chairman of a treasury committee to inquire into the employment conditions of professional men in public services. He contributed to the history of metallurgy with his Royal Society of Arts Cantor Lectures in 1917 on progress in the metallurgy of copper. At the beginning of World War II his department was evacuated to Swansea, where he died suddenly at the height of his intellectual powers.


His major work is Metals, 2 vols. (London, 1939), written with J. Mac Intyre Robertson. Numerous papers were published in the metallurgical periodicals.

Biographical notices appeared in the Times (16 Septem-ber 1940); Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, no. 10 (December 1941), with portrait; Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 142 (1940); and Metallurgia, 22 (October1940).

Frank Greenaway

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