“The Machines That Made The Jet Age”

“The Machines That Made The Jet Age”

If you like giant machines—and who really doesn’t?—don’t miss Tim Heffernan’s wonderful new feature over at Boing Boing:

The magnificent machine pictured above is a closed-die forging press, one of the biggest in the world. (For reference, check out the men standing at its foot, down there on the left.) It and nine other huge forges were built in 1950s by the U.S. government, in a long-forgotten endeavor called the Heavy Press Program…It stands nine stories tall (four of them are hidden under the floor), weighs 16 million pounds, exerts 50,000 tons of compressive force, and, like Vulcan’s own waffle iron, squeezes ingots of solid metal between its jaws until they flow like batter.

Slabs of titanium alloy before (left) and after forging by 'The Fifty.'

Tim’s working on a book about the Heavy Press Program, and recently wrote about ALCOA’s 50,000-ton forging press (aka The Fifty) for The Atlantic. His follow-on piece at Boing Boing places The Fifty in the context of the Heavy Press Program, and the Heavy Press Program in the context of the post-war U.S. industrial boom. Fascinating stuff. [Thanks, Jake!]

Now That’s a Lathe

14 thoughts on ““The Machines That Made The Jet Age”

  1. George Papich says:

    This is precisely why we don’t want to fall into the trap of depending on foreign mfg for our hard goods. It is a matter of national security and economics.

    When everything is said and done, IT is just that…moving or transforming information. People live and buy stuff…tangible stuff. Information never fed or kept anyone warm or got them from one place to another. Something to think about.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      I agree. A great article, but it made me sad to read this: “Today, America lacks the ability to make anything like the Heavy Press Program machines.”

  2. Jim Horn says:

    Having worked for Danly Machine near Chicago in 1974, I appreciate what we’ve lost. There’s nothing like being part of making these monsters. The stories I can tell of when things went wrong, too… No sign any more that the plant even existed.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      Thank you. Fixed.

  3. HoboWhisperer says:

    I’ve worked in the facility in MA (Wyman Gordon). They have a scale model of the 50K in one of the offices (2 of 3 feet tall), You probably only see 1/2 to 1/3 of the machine above the floor (judging by the model they have). Watching it forge an enormous chunk of glowing titanium is awesome.

  4. gross contraptions « that’s gross says:

    […] The Machines That Made The Jet Age […]

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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