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HUNTSMAN, BENJAMIN (1704–1776), English inventor and steel-manufacturer, was born in Lincolnshire in 1704. His parents were Germans. He started business as a clock, lock and tool maker at Doncaster, and attained a considerable local reputation for scientific knowledge and skilled workmanship. He also practised surgery in an experimental fashion, and was frequently consulted as an oculist. Finding that the bad quality of the steel then available for his products seriously hampered him, he began to experiment in steel-manufacture, first at Doncaster, and subsequently at Handsworth, near Sheffield, whither he removed in 1740 to secure cheaper fuel for his furnaces. After several years’ trials he at last produced a satisfactory cast steel, purer and harder than any steel then in use. The Sheffield cutlery manufacturers, however, refused to buy it, on the ground that it was too hard, and for a long time Huntsman exported his whole output to France. The growing competition of imported French cutlery made from Huntsman’s cast steel at length alarmed the Sheffield cutlers, who, after vainly endeavouring to get the exportation of the steel prohibited by the British government, were compelled in self-defence to use it. Huntsman had not patented his process, and its secret was discovered by a Sheffield ironfounder, who, according to a popular story, obtained admission to Huntsman’s works in the disguise of a tramp. Benjamin Huntsman died in 1776, his business being subsequently greatly developed by his son, William Huntsman (1733–1809).

See Smiles, Industrial Biography (1879).