Model of a sheet rolling mill, c 1800

© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Heavy Industry
1800 - 1849

Aircraft, cars, ships, bridges, machinery and appliances – nowadays rolled sheet metal is manufactured in vast surface areas. Untreated or coated, and in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it defines the world we live in.

Rolling involves moulding metal between rotating cylinders. The funnel-shaped tapering of the roll gap and the roller pressure are such that the cross-section of the rolling stock is reduced, thereby increasing its length.

Already before 1500 Leonardo da Vinci had drawn sketches of apparatus for rolling soft metals such as lead and tin. At the time these and other metals were rolled by hand; later, the mechanism was driven by horses. By contrast, sheet metal made of hard iron had to be manufactured with the help of water-driven hammers. In the early days of industrialisation, increasingly large plates of sheet iron were needed, for instance for steam engines, salt pans, and the hulls of ships. In 1786 John Wilkinson in the English town of Bradley evidently established the first steam-driven rolling mill for sheet iron. In Austria, Max Thaddäus Count Egger commissioned an iron rolling mill in Lippitzbach, Carinthia, around 1793, with the help of English engineers. Whether it was hammered or rolled sheet metal that presented the better quality remained a matter of controversial debate for a long time. ‘Calibrated’ rollers were also used to manufacture profiles, which from the 1830s onwards had become increasingly important for the production of railway tracks.

Thin-rolled sheets were shaped into objects through mechanical processing. Drop works with free-falling hammers were used along with impact works with screw spindles and presses. Furniture fittings and ornaments were manufactured using the drop works. Joining techniques such as riveting became more widespread as the quantities of sheet metal increased. What’s more, the American engineer Elihu Thomson developed electric welding around 1887. In the 20th century adhesive bonding was used more and more frequently for joining sheet metal.

Date of origin: c. 1800

Inv.Nr. 9778

Member of