Hadfield, Robert Abbott

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Hadfield, Robert Abbott

(b. Attercliffe, Sheffield, England, 28 November 1858; d. Kingston, Surrey, England, 30 September 1940)


Hadfield was the only son of Robert Hadfield and Marianne Abbott. In 1872 the elder Hadfield initiated production of steel castings in England. The resultant breaking of the French monopoly in such articles as steel projectiles led to the development of a great arms industry. The younger Hadfield was educated at the Collegiate School in Sheffield, where he developed an interest in chemistry. On being employed in his father’s works, he set up its first laboratory.

In 1882, seeking a solution to a local production problem, he began a systematic study of the alloys of iron with silicon and manganese. He prepared a steel with 12–14 percent manganese, possessing remarkable properties of resistance to crushing and abrasion—invaluable in such applications as railway points and grinding machinery. It also became grimly familiar as the material used for steel helmets in World War I.

Partly at the instigation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Hadfield worked on silicon steels, which were further investigated by William Barrett. These steels turned out to have exceptionally low magnetic hysteresis (1899) and, after a seven-year development period, made possible smaller, lighter, and more efficient electric transformers.

Hadfield also collaborated in other scientific research, for example, with Dewar and with the Leiden school on properties of metals at low temperatures. But after assuming the chairmanship of his father’s company in 1888, his influence was chiefly felt in the systematic improvement of the production of steel and steel products, such as armor plate and armorpiercing shells.

Hadfield took a broad view of his subject and was a pioneer in the experimental investigation of historical metallurgical problems. He studied the Delhi Iron Pillar (fourth century A.D.) and the Faraday-Stodart alloys of 1818–1822. He was president of the Faraday Society (1914–1920) and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1909. He was knighted in 1908 and created baronet in 1917.


Hadfield’s two books are Metallurgy and Its Influence on Modern Progress (London, 1925) and Faraday and His Metallurgical Researches (London, 1931). Information on his life and work is in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, no. 10 (1940).

Frank Greenaway