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The Long and Short of


                                 Wire Rope History



                                        ?            by Henry Vere
                                                   If we were to put a time when the idea of wire rope
                                                        came about, perhaps that moment could actually
                                                         be around 5,000 BCE (Before the Common Era).
                                                         Of course this early wire could barely compare to
                                                         what we have now in the 21st century. Crafters
                                                        of such wire would hammer thin sheets of gold
                                                     or copper and then shear off flat pieces. Some
                                                       4000 or so years later, those working on these
                                                           materials found that the quality and utility
                                                            of these strips could be increased by pulling
                                                             them through a half-round or even partially
                                                             rounded groove or notch in a harder material
                                                             in order to remove sharp edges.
                                        Illustration © Don Tywoniw
         A                                  through  round  holes  in  iron  draw   those  attempting the  drawing  of  wire
               t  length,  craftsman  found  that
                                                                               to stretch it out into the precursors of
                                            plates  started  to  be  attempted.  This
               the placing together of several of
               these early wires into one strand
                                                                                 In about 1830, wire rope use received
                                            but still, since the drawing was done
         to make an actual rope made the mate-  method represented an advancement,   today’s wire rope cable.
         rial even stronger. Such an occurrence   by hand it remained time-consuming,   a huge  boost  with  the  invention  of  the
         dates back to about 800 BCE. A bronze   slow and tedious to say the least.  “steam plough” in England. This con-
         rope with this design was discovered at   In 1351 a mechanical drawing meth-  traption consisted of two ploughing en-
         Ninevah and subsequently taken to the   od arose and by 1600, further drawing   gines which traveled opposite sides of a
         British Museum. In design, this par-  of  hard steel wire  took  place in  Ger-  field,  pulling  a  plow  back  and  forth  by
         ticular early “rope” – more like a strand   many, though this still involved square   means of a wire rope. The use of this
         –  is  made  up  of  parallel  wires  bound   rods, sheared from rolled or hammered   equipment was greatly increased as bet-
         together at sets of distance in order for   sheets. In 1728, Fleur, an experiment-  ter grade and cheaper steel for wire ropes
         them to be used as one unit.       er supposedly crafted round rods using   was made available by the development
           Development of the helical form of   grooved rolls, therefore greatly helping        continued on page 28
         wire rope, crafted out of helical strands,
         comes to us from perhaps around 500
         BCE. This  observation  actually  corre-
         lates with rope uncovered in the well-
         preserved Pompeii ruins.  Due to geo-
         logic forces far beyond anyone’s control,
         the city froze in time and place when
         Mt. Vesuvius  erupted on the night of
         August 24, 79 A.D.  Therefore,  work
         had gone on  with  the construction  of
         this type of crude early rope for hun-
         dreds of years prior to that explosive,
         devastating volcanic eruption.
           This particular rope was made up of
         three strands twisted together. Each
         of those strands,  subsequently  con-
         sisted of a pair of bronze strands of
         wire twisted together. The museum in
         nearby Naples, Italy contains a 15 foot
         section of this ancient rope. Few if any
         records  exist of further  developments
         or changes in wire rope over the next
         centuries following wire rope’s appear-
         ance in ancient Pompeii.
           Then, at some point between 600   Making the steel wires for the Atlantic Telegraph Cable of 1865. The Webster and Horsfall
                                            workshop shown above was constructed on short notice to manufacture the armouring wire
         and 1000 A.D.  a  technique involv-  for the 1865 cable, and is still in use today on the original site at Hay Mills.
         ing the pulling of soft, square rods   Photo from Illustrated London News. Scan courtesy Atlantic-Cable.com website
         26     Wire Rope News & Sling Technology   April 2018
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