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Boilermakers and Mechanics


Boilers first became important during the Industrial Revolution, when steam power emerged as a practical way to drive various kinds of machinery. A boiler is an apparatus that heats a liquid, usually water, and converts it to vapor. Boilers were first made and used in England in the beginning of the 18th century. Manufacturers first used iron and then began using steel in boilers because steel could withstand more heat and pressure in use. During the 19th and 20th centuries, a series of design changes and improved alloys made boilers useful in a wide variety of industrial applications.

Because boilers are often operated at extremely high pressures, faulty construction, bad repairs, or improper operation can be very dangerous. Explosions were not uncommon in the early years of the industry before safety measures were instituted and construction methods improved. During the late 19th century, regulations were put in place in some localities to prevent accidents caused by careless construction. Workers in the industry began organizing in the 1880s. By 1893, the two unions representing workers in boilermaking and similar trades met in Chicago to unite into what was then called the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers.

It was not until 1908, however, that rules and regulations were developed to apply to any sizable area. Massachusetts created a Board of Boiler Rules in that year, and Ohio followed with its own set of rules in 1911. By 1934, 19 states and 15 cities had such codes. Today, as a result of the combined efforts of industry, labor unions, and government, safety codes are practically universal. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers, AFL-CIO andĀ ASME (formerly known as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) have been leaders in the promotion and enforcement of the codes of safe manufacture and maintenance.

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