Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Muntz Metal and the British Shipping Advantage

In 1800's Europe, a fast fleet who could navigate quickly and easily to the Americas was a huge advantage for the economy of the nation who owned the ships. In addition to crews who could safely navigate waters and avoid pirates, ships benefitted from antifouling methods that would prevent barnacles and other growth. The most common antifouling technique, copper, was known to be effective but also very expensive. A metalsmith, George Muntz, created an alloy that combined copper with zinc and iron that became the coating substance of choice, at two-thirds the cost of pure copper.

This sheeting was beautiful and brassy, and gave ships like the Cutty Sark their distinct look. It was strong, long lasting and avoided corrosion so well that it is often the best-preserved part of shipwrecks from that era. The clear advantage of these sheets was that they allowed the British fleet a quicker ride, as the boats were more unencumbered with growth, and less in-port maintenance time as well.

The success of Muntz metal sheeting was so clear that they began expanding it to other items as well. Wraps made of this metal helped to prevent decay and tubeworm holes in dock pilings. Bolts of muntz metal were also found to have less corrosion and wear than when they were made of other alloys. They were not only longer lasting, they were also stronger than other kinds of bolts. Again, with less time in the shipyard, shipping vessels which employed muntz metal were able to spend more time at sea, making money for the British Empire.

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