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fine-drawn

William Champion (metallurgist)

William Champion (1709 - 1789) is credited with patenting a process in Great Britain to distill zinc from calamine using charcoal in a smelter.

As came from a family who were already concerned in the metal trade at Bristol, his father being a leading partner in the Bristol Brass Company As a young man he toured Europe, returning in 1730. He then experimented with smelting calamine, developing a method very similar to those long in use at the Zawar mines in India (except in scale), but no mechanism for technology transfer had yet been established. The difficulty is that a temperature of 1000C is needed to reduce zinc oxide to zinc, but zinc vaporises at 907C. It is thus necessary for the furnace to provide a means of condensing the vapour. He obtained a patent for the process in 1738, but the process was energy inefficient. The distillation process produced around 400 kg of zinc per charge from six crucibles located in the furnace. The zinc was collected by iron tubes into water.

His initial works were on Old Market in Bristol and he made 200 tons of spelter (as zinc was then called) by 1742, when he was required to move because his premises were a 'common nuisance'. In 1746, he formed a partnership (the Warmley Company) with fellow Quakers, including Thomas Goldney (the Bristol merchant was a partner in the Coalbrookdale Works) and Sampson Lloyd the Birmingham ironmonger and set up works at Warmley, creating a large reservoir to power battery works, wire mills and rolling mills. In 1750 he sought an extension of his patent, but this was opposed. By 1754, he had:

'15 copper furnaces 12 brass furnaces; 4 spelter or zinc furnace; a battery mill or small mill for kettles; rolling mills for making plates; rolling and cutting mills for wire; and a wire mill of both thick and fine drawn kinds.

In 1761 he sought new partners for an expanded works. However, by 1765, he was in financial difficulties. He sought a charter of incorporation, but this was refused. Ultimately he was declared bankrupt in 1768 and dismissed by the Warmley Company. However this was forced to sell their works in 1769 to the old Bristol Brass Company, but they never used the works to their full capacity.

His brother John Champion developed a refined process and patented in 1758 the calcination of zinc sulfide (zinc blende) to oxide for use in the retort process. The English zinc industry was concentrated in and around Bristol and Swansea.

References

  • J. Day, 'Copper, Zinc and Brass Production' in J. Day and R. F. Tylecote, The Industrial Revolution in Metals (Institute of Metals, London, 1991).
  • P. K. Stembridge, The Goldney family: a Bristol Dynasty (Bristol Record Society 1998), 46-51.
  • A. Raistrick, Quakers in Science and Industry (1950; Sessions Book Trust, York 1993), 192-6.

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