In 1708, wholesale ironmonger John Webster of
Birmingham together with his heiress wife founded an enterprise
that has lasted for almost three hundred years!
By exploiting connections with the Staffordshire
iron trade, John acquired local mills and began bar iron and wire
manufacture. His son, Joseph, extended the business into steel and,
after the death of his father in 1761, was the first British manufacturer
to successfully develop crucible steel into steel wire. This marked
the beginning of an enduring reputation for music wire, associated
with the name Websters of Penns.
Troubled times over the years, including the French
Revolution and war with France, challenged the company but a knack
for product development and an ability to find heiresses to finance
the operation kept things afloat. In 1855 the Websters also found
a certain Mr James Horsfall whose heat treatment processes revolutionised
wire making, and thereby maintained global pre-eminence.
Purity of materials in the steel making process
was, and still is, crucial to the success of the company. Finely
machined crucible pots and accurate charging yielded ingot quality
that still remains unsurpassed. From 1816, experimentation with
additives continued apace, and in 1825 high manganese steel wire
was produced that ousted German competition for twenty years.
By 1850, James Horsfall's hard drawing, heat treatments
and quenching produced wire that had twice the tensile strength
previously known. This so-called "patented wire" is now
a term in worldwide use. The subsequent partnership of Webster &
Horsfall is as much based on friendship as a commercial development
of common interests.