History of Automotive Arc Welding Through Lincoln Electric


The officially accepted birthday of the first gasoline powered  automobile, the Benz Motorwagen, is 1886. This automobile came to life at the hands of German inventor Karl Benz (Yes, that Benz from Mercedes-Benz). It’s unlikely that Benz would have achieved this industrial turning event without the use of Arc welding,which was founded only a couple of decades prior. From that moment forward, the auto and welding industries have been forever linked, like two plates of steel butt-welded together by the TIG process.

We’re going through an interesting period because welding equipment has made a huge leap.                     – Greg Coleman

For hundreds of years man could only join metal by the crude and time consuming fusion method, which called for the heating and pounding of metals until they were fused to each other. In the 1860’s an Englishman named Wilde began intentionally joining metals by electric welding. In 1865 he was granted a patent on the “arc” process which was only of interest to scientists until 1881 when the carbon-arc street lamp was made. Once the genie was out of the bottle there was no looking back and companies like Lincoln Electric entered the welding industry in 1907. 

September 1927 – Lamkin Hodge Pipeline. Getting ready to lay the final bead on a bell and spigot joint for this 8-inch line which carries gas from Lamkin, Louisiana to Hodge, Louisiana. This was one of the first major pipelines to be arc welded, and Lincoln equipment was used exclusively for this project.

The Lincoln Electric Company of Cleveland Ohio began by manufacturing electric motors in 1895. By 1907, Lincoln Electric was manufacturing the first variable voltage DC welding machine. Founder John C. Lincoln started the company with a $200 investment making electric motors of his own design. 

About Lincoln Electric

A History Recap of Lincoln Electric

1895: John C. Lincoln founded the Lincoln Electric Company manufacturing and selling electric motors of his own design.

1907: John C.’s younger brother, James F. Lincoln, joined the company as a salesman.

1914: John C. turns over the reigns of the company to James F. 

1917: The Lincoln Electric Welding School was founded. The school has trained more than 100,000 people since its inception in 1917.

1933: Lincoln Electric Co. published 1st edition of “Procedure Handbook of Arc Welding Design and Fabrication” with the purpose to have its customers use arc welding efficiently.  Today it’s considered “the bible of welding.”

1977: The Mentor, Ohio, electrode plant was started up to produce the company’s domestic wire consumables products.

2005: Lincoln Electric acquires J.W. Harris Company, a global leader in brazing and soldering alloys, to broaden the Company’s solutions capabilities and complement the core product lines. 

2010: The Lincoln Electric Company celebrates its 115th anniversary year.

John C.’s younger brother, James F. Lincoln, joined the company as a salesman in 1907, by which time the product line had been expanded to include battery chargers for electric automobiles. A welding set is first made by the Lincoln brothers in 1909. In 1911, Lincoln Electric introduced the first variable voltage, single operator, portable welding machine in the world.

Lincoln Electric’s Marketing Communication Team leader, Greg Coleman explained the differences in the two Lincoln brothers. “John C was an engineer and inventor with extensive experience in the developing Cleveland electrical apparatus industry. James F., on the other hand, was a charasmatic natural salesperson with a history as the co-captain of an undefeated Ohio State football team.” As different as the brothers may have been personality wise, they did share the entrepreneurial spirit.  

Opting to focus on scientific study, John C. Lincoln turned over the company’s operations to younger brother James F. Lincoln in 1914.  Almost immediately, James F. introduced piecework pay and established the Employee Advisory Board, which includes elected representatives from every department and has met every two weeks ever since. By 1915, in a progressive effort for its time, Lincoln Electric employees were covered by group life insurance. Lincoln Electric was one of the first companies to cover their employees and pay incentive bonuses.

Lincoln Electric and Training 

Turn of the century Ohio was a hotbed of automotive entrepreneurs. From Grant Motor Company and Standard Oil to Allen Automobile, Willys, Templar Automobile, Studebaker-Garford, Arrow Cyclecar and the Sandusky Automobile Company, Ohio seemed to be the center of the automotive universe in early 1900’s. Along with the automotive industry came all of the industrial wares to help maintain and grow the fledgling car business.

Even 69 years ago, welders were interested in helmets with edgy graphics. Check out this cool “Voodoo” helmet from 1944.

James F. Lincoln knew that training people would leave a lasting impression on these would-be future welders. “He was hoping that the trained welders would remember the Lincoln name somewhere down the line,” said Coleman. Starting the Lincoln Electric Welding School was the start of the training process. As of 2010, more than 100,000 people have been trained to weld at this institution. 

“James Lincoln was really a visionary,” says Coleman. “He wrote three books and started the incentive management principles that we still have in place today.”

In addition to the management and training efforts, James Lincoln was a leader that fostered a company culture where employee concerns are heard. “We are continuously working to minimize waste, reduce costs and improve safety for everyone involved with Lincoln Electric. Most of these ideas came from our employees. Even today, long after the Lincoln brothers are gone, we foster an environment where employee concerns are voiced and welcomed.”

The Cutting Edge in Training

As always, Lincoln Electric has kept up with the changing face of welding by moving the learning curve further along. Training has become a significant part of Lincoln’s portfolio. “About six to eight years ago, we teamed up with a virtual reality company to produce an accurate environment that simulates what happens at the weld. The VRTEX virtual reality arc welding trainer precisely simulates what it looks like and what it sounds like to weld.”

The VRTEX Mobile system is the latest training machine for weldors.

According to Coleman, “The system allows for scoring of the weld. It will measure angles, speed, and stick out measurements to score the weld. All this is done without wasting consumables. No more using metal stock, gas and welding wire when practicing.” 

Lincoln Electric recommends that virtual reality training be used as a supplement to actual training in the weld booth or application environment and should not be considered a replacement for traditional training methods.

In May of 1939, Exhibitor’s Service Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, purchased a Lincoln SA-150. Here, a welder works on a 20-foot frame salvaged from a truck that was damaged in a fire. According to company representatives, the SA-150 paid for itself the first week in the shop.

The VRTEX system is used in many locations and many different industries in the current environment as a way to save costs during training. Not only is the device effective for learning different welding processes, Coleman explained that it also validates a weldor. “The system can also be used to verify that a weldor is proficient in the various welding processes. Without wasting any resources, a company can check that a weldor can do what he says he can do.”  

Lincoln Electric TIG welders can easily handle difficult metals like sheet metal to plate steel.

What’s on The Horizon

Lincoln Electric has always been committed to arc welding, “That’s not going to change,” says Coleman, “We are going to keep pushing the learning curve on arc welding and welding consumables.”

Coleman explained, “We are involved in many of the latest processes like fiber hybrid laser welding, which retains the use of a welding consumable in the process.”  Either the Laser cladding process or the  hardfacing process can be applied to a new part during production to increase its wear resistance, or it may be used to restore a worn-down surface.”

In addition to the laser welding process, Coleman told us about the company’s work in cutting metal. “We’ve made some solid acquisitions like Torchmate. Torchmate CNC Cutting Systems has been bringing affordable CNC plasma cutting tables and other automation solutions to manufacturers worldwide for over 30 years.”

Lincoln Electric also acquired Harris Calorific Company in the 90’s. Harris Calorific was a pioneer in gas welding and cutting. The company was founded by John Harris, the man that discovered the oxyacetylene method of cutting and welding. “So we are looking at pushing the learning curve in metal cutting here too,” Coleman said. “One of our most recent acquisitions was Burny Kaliburn, a manufacturer of high definition plasma cutting systems with extreme accuracy,” he added. “Currently, we can offer oxyfuel cutting, handheld plasma cutting, CNC table systems, high definition plasma and laser cutting systems.”

 Keeping Up With Metal Alloys

 “We’re going through an interesting period because welding equipment has made a huge leap,” stated Coleman. “Equipment has changed rom transformer/rectifier based systems to inverter-based systems for multiple processes with different waveforms,” he added. “The use of software to optimize arc characteristics for aluminum GMAW has been taken to a new level at Lincoln Electric, we call this Waveform Control Technology,” he added.

Most professional fabricators dial in their preferred arc for the application by manipulating the pulse or waveform characteristics of the machine. Here Chip Foose shows off for the camera.

The “next level” Coleman mentioned is Lincoln Electric’s technology that allows the welding system to learn what the user or employer considers a high quality weld for a particular application.

 “The machine is able to learn exactly what the user considers an acceptable weld, then the machine has the ability to grade the welds based on the information provided by the user,” explained Coleman.

 This Waveform Control Technology and the “user-defined” tailoring it provides, can be found in software embedded in Lincoln’s Power Wave inverter power sources. The Power Wave can be utilized in pre-programmed waveforms for welding aluminum or engineers can create their own tailored, waveforms using Lincoln’s Wave Designer Software. These waveforms, which are created on a PC, can be programmed into the Power Wave.

Manipulating wavelengths was not always a concern or option in the past. A young boy watches as his father (John Taylor) gets ready to make repairs with his gas engine-driven welder at the farm of Lawrence and John Taylor in December of 1949.

Being able to control and manipulate the waveforms allows weldors to adjust to different metal alloys to provide a solidly joined welded seam. “This is a long way from the first Lincoln Electric welders that were the size of a Pinto and used bare solid welding rods,” said Coleman.

Lincoln Electric’s Tomahawk plasma cutters are a big part of the recent evolution of metal fabrication and cutting.


Manipulating the waveform can have a predictable effect on travel speeds, final weld bead appearance, post weld cleanup and welding fume levels. For example, on thin, .035-inch, aluminum base materials, the user can reduce heat input, reduce distortion, eliminate spatter, eliminate cold lap, and eliminate burn-throughs with the use of Waveform technology. This has been done repeatedly in applications that can benefit from pulsed GMAW. Welding programs can be created that will apply to a very specific range of wire feed speeds and currents or they can be created to follow a very wide range of material thicknesses with a broad range of wire feed speed.

Fabricating a bend in a 12-in. gas line at the KMA Oil Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, in October 1938. The work was being done on a river crossing for the gathering system between some oil wells and the Phillips Petroleum Company cracking plant.

Another of Lincoln Electric’s subsidiaries, Techalloy, a Maryland based company, produces nickel alloy and stainless steel welding consumables for automotive exhaust systems, high temperature and anti-corrosive chemical and pharmaceutical industry applications and oil and gas industry fabrication maintenance and repair. The company’s products are considered industry standards in power generation and nuclear applications. Techalloy maintains a leading position as a supplier for power plant weld overlay operations. As automotive manufacturers switch to different or newer metal alloys, Techalloy comes up with new products to meet the welding needs of fabricators. 

Different metal alloys have many different attractive attributes that make each alloy a choice for a various applications, although they can be different to weld. With a good understanding of metallurgy and the latest tools and technology on the market, all of the metal alloys can be dealt with successfully. Lincoln Electric helps keep weldors on the cutting edge of technology with updated equipment and up-to-date training practices. These basic principals that have been with Lincoln Electric from the beginning are still the driving factors for the company today.




About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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