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"Improvements in the Manufacture of Cast-iron and Steel." Patent no. 17, filed by F.A.H. La Rue, 1869

 

Patent no. 17. Filing year 1869.

"Improvements in the Manufacture of Cast-Iron and Steel," F.A.H. La Rue.

François-Alexandre-Hubert La Rue has been called the first French-Canadian scientist. La Rue received scientific training in Europe before successfully defending the first doctoral thesis in medicine from Université Laval, in 1859. Chiefly a professor of forensic medicine and chemistry, La Rue had remarkably wide-ranging interests, with contributions to education, philosophy, agriculture and literature, as well as the subject of this 1869 patent, metallurgy.

His patent concerns the manufacture of cast-iron and steel. Still the most important material in industry today, steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. It first became commercially viable in 1856 when Henry Bessemer of England invented a process to extract excess amounts of carbon from pig iron. La Rue's patent is for a process to manufacture cast-iron and steel, in a single operation, from iron ore extracted from the magnetic sands along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The concept evolved from research he did with another French-Canadian inventor, Louis Labrèche-Viger, who patented his own separate process.

In La Rue's patent description -- one of the few from the years 1869 to 1894 written in French -- he ambitiously claimed that his process could "probably replace all previous processes for manufacturing cast iron and steel from any iron ore." [translation] It didn't work out this way, however. British and American inventors kept improving on the Bessemer process until the 20th century, when the Siemens-Martin process, which used electrically heated furnaces, became predominant. Nonetheless, La Rue's concepts were likely applied to some extent by the Moisie Iron Works, a mining company owned by brewing magnate William Molson, which operated in the Moisie River region on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The company exported iron to the United States until it went bankrupt in 1875.

This complex patent is just one aspect of La Rue's varied achievements. He was one of the founders of the literary journal Les Soirées canadiennes and contributed to other journals. He was a renowned expert in forensic medicine and toxicology, assisting in various medical inquiries. His thesis on suicide was a groundbreaking work that analyzed statistics and outlined the moral responsibilities of people committing suicide. He pushed for agricultural and educational reforms in Quebec, publishing his own textbooks on history, arithmetic and grammar, as well as manuals for his innovations in agriculture. In 1875, the Canadian government appointed him analytical chemist for the Quebec region under the provisions of an 1874 act to prevent the adulteration of food, drink and drugs.

References

Dubuc, Alfred. "Molson, William." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39288&query=Molson
(accessed November 2, 2005).

Lortie, Léon. "La Rue (Larue), François-Alexandre-Hubert." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39767&query=larue
(accessed November 2, 2005).

Monet, Jacques. "Labrèche-Viger, Louis." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39204&query=Labr%E8che-Viger
(accessed November 2, 2005).

Robidoux, Réjean. "Soirées canadiennes, Les." Historica The Canadian Encyclopedia. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0007547
(accessed November 2, 2005).

"Steel Production." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath, pp. 588-589. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999.

Schubert, H.R. "The Steel Industry." The Late Nineteenth Century, c.1850-1900. Edited by Charles Singer et al. A History of Technology series, vol. 5. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954-1978.