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Jamaicans behind British iron

St. Pancras station in London, made using eighteenth-century wrought iron

Dhowes9 / Wikimedia Commons

Newly discovered historical documents indicate that the wrought iron production method was created in the eighteenth century by Black metalworkers in Jamaica and taken to England by British businessman Henry Cort (1740–1800), who is credited with inventing the technique. Represented in many London structures, such as the Crystal Palace and St. Pancras station, the so-called Cort process helped Britain become the largest iron exporter in the world. Historian Jenny Bulstrode of University College London (UCL) found that many enslaved ironworkers in Jamaica had been trafficked from West and Central Africa, which already had iron mills. Owned by Englishman John Reeder, the Jamaican mill was destroyed by order of the English government to prevent it from manufacturing weapons. Cort purchased the machines, sent them to England, and patented the technique in the 1780s. “If you ask people what an innovator looks like, they think of Elon Musk or some white man in a lab coat,” Bulstrode told the British newspaper The Guardian. “We don’t think about Black people, enslaved people, in eighteenth century Jamaica.” She highlighted the names of some of the Jamaican ironworkers: Devonshire, Mingo, Mingo’s son, Friday, Captain Jack, Matt, George, Jemmy, Jackson, Will, Bob, Guy, Kofi, and Kwasi (The Guardian, July 5; History and Technology, June 21).