If you think of medieval blacksmiths pounding away at red-hot pieces of metal, what you are actually picturing is the ancient technique of forge- or solid-state welding. Without the high-tech plastic welding equipment that we have today, ancient welders had to be resourceful in using what materials were available to them. So, they heated metals in charcoal fires and then shaped them under the pressure of repeated hammer blows. This pressure allowed two different metals to be joined and form a stronger compound. The first recorded use of this technique occurred in ancient Egypt around 3000 B.C. Welding allowed the Egyptians to craft weapons such as the Khopesh, a crescent-shaped sword that allowed for hooking and slashing, as well as battle axes and powerful metal spears. When combined with the speed of chariots, these welded weapons made the ancient Egyptians an unstoppable force on the battlefield.
Other ancient civilizations also began to employ solid-state welding techniques not only to craft weaponry, but jewelry, tools, and utensils as well. Archaeologists have discovered artifacts that prove forge-welding played an important role for ancient Sumerians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Irish. While smashing hot metal with a hammer may seem archaic, these early welding techniques were far superior to manufacturing techniques that smaller tribes and societies relied upon. The stone and wood weapons that these tribes brought to battle were no match for the mighty weapons that welders created.
Over time, more advanced welding techniques were developed, including arc welding, TIG welding, and plastic welding. These methods allowed for large-scale manufacturing work in the aircraft, automobile, shipbuilding, and spacecraft industries. Rosie the Riveter is the most recognizable face of the civilian effort during World War II, but welding was actually the driving force in the manufacturing process. The American Welding Society responded to increased demands in 1943 for military weapons and technology to support the Allied effort. By crafting over 1,700 different weapons and playing a major role in the manufacturing of ships, jets, tanks, and other military vehicles, welders provided a major advantage in the European and Pacific campaigns by keeping the military well-stocked and armed. This ultimately led to victorious campaigns on both fronts, and cemented welding’s place as a valuable asset in manufacturing industries.
Ultrasonic welding, which creates plastic compounds using high-frequency vibrations, has replaced many of the traditional metal welding techniques as plastics have begun to play a larger role in manufacturing. Because it is safe and ideal for detailed work, ultrasonic welding is used in building smart phone and computer technology that drives our modern world. As you trace the progress of technology throughout history, from forge-welded swords to arc-welded ships to plastic-welded computers, you can see how welding improvements laid the foundation for these technological advancements. While society notices these advancements at-large, welding continues to play a crucial role in the background, making this technology possible.