Samuel T. Wellman may not be as memorable a name as Carnegie, Frick, or Morgan, but this Norwich alumnus was a deeply influential pioneer of the American steel industry.
Wellman was born in Wareham, Mass. in 1847, a descendent of the state’s early Puritan settlers. The family relocated to Nashua, N.H. when he was six years old, and for many years his father was a superintendent of the Nashua Iron Company. He attended Norwich for two years as a member of the Class of 1866, his education most likely interrupted by the call to serve in the Civil War. This time at Norwich would prove deeply influential, as it was the only formal engineering training for a young man who was destined to become a captain of industry.
After the war, Wellman went to work for his father at the Nashua Iron Company. Thus began a career that would see him invent approximately 80 new devices and methods for steel manufacturing. According to one story, in his early days at Nashua Iron, the company had sent for an engineer from England to set up a new furnace, and when the expert arrived from overseas, he found that young Wellman had installed the furnace himself.
Some of Wellman’s notable innovations in steel production include the first commercially successful open-hearth furnace; an open-hearth charging machine; a hydraulic crane; and key improvements to the Hulett unloader, which was used to unload iron ore boats. It was estimated that during World War I, 75% of British steel production was handled by the charging machine this Norwich boy invented.
In 1873, Wellman moved to Cleveland, where he was put in charge of designing and constructing the plant for the new Otis Steel & Iron Co. In the 1890s, he, his brother, and a friend formed the Wellman Seaver Engineering Company, specializing in the design and manufacture of equipment for steel and associated industries. Wellman was company president upon his retirement. He also served as president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers from 1901 to 1902, no doubt presiding over a brotherhood that included many of his fellow Norwich alumni.
Though he never completed his degree at Norwich, the university awarded him two honorary degrees in 1904. He passed away suddenly in 1919. According to legend, Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel once called him “the man who did more than any other living person in the development of steel.”
You can read Samuel Wellman’s 1919 obituary in the Norwich Record online through the Norwich University Archives.