Story by Cody Hall, Contributing writer
A steel plaque sits outside Jesse D. Jones Hall to commemorate William Kelly’s pneumatic iron process, naming it a National Historical Chemical Landmark.
On May 11, 2015, the American Chemical Society granted Kelly’s pneumatic iron process for refining iron as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. It is the first National Historic Chemical Landmark in Kentucky.
Bommanna Loganathan, professor of chemistry, presented the finding to the American Chemical Society. He will be presenting the results of his research into Kelly’s history in detail Feb. 25 in the Carr Health Building.
The presentation is about William Kelly, who discovered a way to make stronger steel cheaper and more effectively. This is commonly known as the Bessemer process, made famous by Englishman Henry Bessemer. Kelly was the one who invented the process, but Bessemer received the fame.
“The world’s greatest invention happened right here in western Kentucky,” Loganathan said. “West Kentucky was very involved in the iron-steel and steel process.”
Loganathan did not intend to do this research until after he visited Land Between the Lakes and became interested in the furnaces there.
As a former chairman of the local American Chemical Society chapter, Loganathan was able to submit his findings, including collections of news articles and the journal entries of William Kelly.
The American Chemical Society’s scientists, historians and engineers agreed to approve the research and found that Kelly’s process was fitting to become a National Historic Chemical Landmark in western Kentucky.
“Modern construction would not be possible without Kelly’s process,” Loganathan said. “The Eiffel Tower, modern cars, kitchen utensils, railroads, all the tall towers we have. Without steel, we could not enjoy this sophisticated life.”
Loganathan said he had the help of local historians and professionals. Don Hicks, retired professor from Georgia State, William Oliver, retired professor from Northern Kentucky and Sally Whittington, director of the Rose Hill Museum, worked alongside him on this project.
Odell Walker, historian at the Lyon County Historical Society, provided Loganathan with many of the articles on which he based his research.
Walker had been researching Kelly’s work on and off for more than 20 years. He knew about Kelly’s experiments before Loganathan even began his research.
“It’s taken too long for Kelly to get the recognition that he deserved,” Walker said. “He demonstrated the process years before Bessemer, and he should have gotten credit for it a long time ago.”
The American Chemical Society established the National Historic Chemical Landmark program in 1992.
It was established for the public to recognize the contribution of chemical sciences to modern life in the United States. It records their histories, information and resources about the key achievements.
“It made possible the rapid manufacture of a malleable product of iron, in large quantities and masses, at a low cost,” said Joseph D. Weeks, in a document from the Engineering and Mining Journal in 1896.
“Its commercial and economic importance cannot be measured,” he said.
Loganathan researched Kelly for the sake of preserving history. He conducted this research on the side, separate from the research he does through the university.
His usual research with the university is about pollution in the atmosphere.