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From Value One, Summer 2013 No.41  

The Thomas converter in Todoroki Ryokuchi Park

The Kawasaki City Museum is located in Todoroki Ryokuchi Park. A huge art object, shiny and black, stands in the front garden of the museum as if to scrape the sky. It is a Thomas converter, about 7.6 meters tall and weighing some sixty tonnes.

Blast furnace-made pig iron is hard and brittle, and contains a great deal of carbon. Oxygen is blown into the pig iron to reduce the carbon content and remove impurities such as phosphorus and sulfur, converting it into high-tensile steel. A converter handles this steelmaking process.

Sir Henry Bessemer of Great Britain invented the converter in 1856. It was an epochal creation, enabling steel to be produced in a much shorter time than in an open-hearth furnace, which was the typical method of steelmaking at the time. Moreover, the oxidation process served as a heat source. However, since the firebricks of the furnace wall were made of silica, phosphoric impurities could not be removed.

The Thomas converter provided a solution to this problem. Developed in 1879 by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas from Britain and his collaborators, this new converter made dephosphorization possible by using basic firebricks, which caused calcium oxide and phosphorus to react with each other and form slag.

The Thomas converter was first introduced into a Japanese mill in 1938. Mr. Kaichiro Imaizumi, founder of Nippon Kokan (NKK Corporation; now JFE Steel Corporation) played a leading role in this significant development. Mr. Imaizumi had contributed greatly to the founding of the government-run Yawata Steel Works, and in 1912 he set up NKK in Kawasaki, the nation's first private steelmaking enterprise.

The open-hearth steelmaking process required scrap iron as raw material, but the Manchurian Incident triggered an acute scrap iron shortage. Alarmed by this situation, Mr. Imaizumi took note of the Thomas converter process, which was not dependent on scrap iron and was also much more efficient. He tried to convince colleagues in the steel industry of the need to use this process, but they did not listen, so he decided to introduce it at NKK's mill. As relatively phosphorus-free iron ore was generally available in Japan at that time, he also developed a uniquely Japanese version of the Thomas converter process in which phosphate ore was added to what was put in the blast furnace.

Mr. Imaizumi made many significant achievements to Japan's modern steel industry. The firm faith and foresight that drove him to introduce the Thomas converter were especially appreciated, and the technology that equipment embodied eventually developed into today's LD converter process.
The first Thomas converter at work in Japan


Development of the Keihin industrial belt started in the late Meiji period. Even today the area ranks among the leading industrial zones in Japan in terms of the value shipped out.


A modern blast furnace at JFE Steel's East Japan Works (in the Keihin district)


Kawasaki City Museum
1-2 Todoroki, Nakahara-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa (in Todoroki Ryokuchi Park)
Tel: +81-44-754-4500
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed on Mondays (except when Monday falls on a national holiday), the day after any national holiday (unless it is Saturday or Sunday), and the year-end/New Year holidays
Admission: Visiting the exhibition rooms of the museum is free

The Keihin (Tokyo-Yokohama) industrial belt is the first modern industrial cluster in Japan. Industrialization started in this area during the late Meiji era (1868–1912), and the cluster extended from Yokohama City to Ota Ward in Tokyo, with Kawasaki City in between. After the plants of Yokohama Seito (today's Dai-Nippon Meiji Sugar Co., Ltd.) and Tokyo Denki (Toshiba Corporation) were built in Kawasaki in 1910, NKK and other representative Japanese manufacturers followed suit one after another. The Kawasaki City Museum reveals the history of the Keihin industrial belt in an easy-to-understand way, using many exhibits and other methods.

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