The Kelly Kettle
By Odell Walker
[A picture of the historical marker with a larger iron kettle is shown on page. http://www.communitywalk.com/location/kelly_kettle/kuttawa/kentucky/info/1476257 ]
William Kelly was born in 1811 near Pittsburgh of Irish Immigrant parents, John and Elizabeth Kelly. William had training in the iron industry; however, he and some of his family were in the dry goods and riverboat shipping business at Pittsburgh. They owned a warehouse on the wharf.
In the spring of 1845, William Kelly was in Nashville on a buying trip for the family business. While in Nashville, he met Mildred Gracey at a graduation exercise at a girls finishing school. Mildred Gracey was the daughter of J.N. Gracey, a wealthy tobacco merchant and steamboat line owner of Eddyville, Ky.
After a short courtship, William and Mildred were married and decided to make their home at Eddyville. With finances arranged primarily by his father-in-law, William Kelly was joined by his brother, John, from Pittsburgh, and they went into the iron business in Lyon County.
They purchased the old Eddyville Furnace located near the Kuttawa Springs from the Cobb family. Their next venture was the construction of the Suwanee Furnace.
From 1847 to 1857, William Kelly experimented with what he called the “Pneumatic Process” for making steel, which later became known as the Bessemer Process. In 1857 at his Suwanee Furnace, William Kelly demonstrated his process before a large gathering of iron-masters. Molten pig or cast iron was placed in an egg shaped barrel that was on a pivot.
Kelly forced a blast of cold air into the base of the converter. When the combustion and burning process ended, the convertor was tilted and the molten metal was poured into molds to cool. This process proved a faster and cheaper way to make steel and moved the world from the iron age to the steel age. The device used by William Kelly became known as the “Kelly Converter” and is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
In 1846-47 William Kelly built the New Union Forge at the present site of Old Kuttawa on the Cumberland River. At this facility, thousands of cast iron kettles were manufactured and shipped to Louisiana and South American to be used in the refining of sugar. Many of these kettles were very large, measuring as much as 12 feet in diameter.
The picture is one of Kelly’s kettles that was placed on a pedestal and displayed in Silver Cliff Park for many years. When Kuttawa was relocated, the kettle was moved and now stands in the median between the streets of New Kuttawa.