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Dyes and Dyeing 1775–1860

  • C. M. Mellor and D. S. L. Cardwell
Extract

The history of the dyestuffs industry during the period 1775–1860 is interesting for three reasons. In the first place it was in connection with the manufacture of synthetic dyestuffs, begun in 1856, that the industrial research laboratory and the organization scientist first unmistakably appeared in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Secondly, there are the enigmas of W. H. Perkin, the man who discovered and manufactured the first coal-tar colours, but who retired somewhat abruptly from the industry in 1874: just after the synthesis of alizarine. Thirdly, the dyestuffs industry was in intimate association with the textile industries which had for a long time been subject to frequent radical scientific and technological innovation. Among the most important of these we may mention John Smeaton's classic paper of 1759 on the maximum work obtainable from a given fall of water: a problem important not only for the abstract science of mechanics, but also for the design of waterwheels—the main source of power for the early textile mills. (The waterwheel was not, during the eighteenth century, the epitome of the quaint and picturesque: it was in the van of scientific and technical progress.) Again, the textile industries were quick to employ the Watt rotative engine; previously a two cylinder Newcomen engine had been tried out. Bleaching powders, based on Scheele's discovery of chlorine and its properties, were rapidly adopted: in this context one cannot help contrasting the indifference of medical science to Davy's early suggestion of using nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic; or Faraday's comment in 1818 on the anaesthetic power of sulphuric ether. The textile industries saw, over this period, a rapid succession of new machines, the pace of invention being so hot that in 1832 Charles Babbage reported that machines became obsolete long before they wore out. A Salford cotton mill was the first industrial establishment to use gas lighting: James Thomson, calico printer, introduced gas lighting to the town of Clitheroe when he installed it in his works. And there were many other important technical and scientific innovations. It was to supply these industries, so well accustomed to change, that the synthetic coal-tar dyestuffs were introduced from 1856 onwards. It is interesting that, so far as we can see, the appearance of these synthetic dyestuffs was the last in the series of major innovations in the textiles and related industries: at least until recent times.

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1 For an account of some early German dyestuffs chemists see Beer, J. J.: Coal Tar Dye Manufacture and the Origin of the Modern Industrial Research Laboratory. Isis, 49, 1958, 123131.

2 For this and other information about Thomson we are indebted to Mr. A. Hanson, Borough Librarian, Clitheroe.

3 The information on natural dyes is from C. Rawson, W. M. Gardner and W. F. Laycock: A Dictionary of Dyes, Mordants, etc.

4 Wilson, to Whittaker, , 8 02 1766.

5 Wilson, to Hart, , 12 01 1773.

6 1 May 1805.

7 To Fleetwood, and Arguibel, , 22 12 1802.

8 5 December 1804.

9 23 November 1786.

10 Wilson, to Waugh, , 6 10 1783.

11 Wilson, to Fennel, , 3 09 1807.

12 Holroyds' Ledger folios 263ff.

13 Burdon, J. A.: Archives of British Honduras, London, 1931, vol. i, p. 70.

14 Ibid., 77 & 78.

15 10 January.

16 Holroyds, to Hoogwerff, , 18 02 1798 and 20 02 1799. Mull madder is an inferior sort consisting of a mixture of smaller roots, the epidermis of large roots, earth, and the bran or refuse of the sieves: Chemical Gazette, 18421843, I, 15.

17 Ff 49 & 50.

18 Wilson, to Waugh, , 19 08 1793.

19 22 December 1802.

20 Wilson, to Pemberton, , 5 01 1802.

21 17 August 1824.

22 Holroyds, to Whitton, , 6 04 1805.

23 Wilson, to Braithwaite, , 8 08 1799.

24 To Slater, 23 July 1810 and 6 September 1811; Dyer, 1937, lxxviii, 482. Quercitron tended to supersede weld during the nineteenth century.

25 See, for instance, Holroyds, to Howard, , 16 02 and 28 10 1824. 1 Cwt. 3qrs. 2st. of woad valued at £2 10s appears in Wilson's inventory for December 1807.

26 Nature, 1896–1897, lv, 36–37, and 1899–1900, lxi, 331–332.

27 Records of Waddington in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds: A memorandum dated 2 October 1824: ‘The necessity of using Argol was this day proved by the man forgetting to use it, the color (sic) was shocking …’

28 Wilson, John, An Essay on Light … Manchester, 1786, pp. 21 & 24.

29 A pattern book dated August 1815 signed by William Gott and in the Museum of the Leeds University Department of Dyeing and Colour Chemistry gives on folios 43 & 44 an incomplete account of preparing the indigo vat.

30 Manchester Guardian, 30 11 1955; Dyer, 1941, lxxxvi, 1941, 41.

31 To Harding, , 2 06 1756.

32 To Somerscales, , 29 02 1804.

33 10 January 1800.

34 To Naylor, John, 13 11 1802.

35 Wilson, to Somerscales, , 3 03 1807.

36 Holroyds, to Tiplady, , Prichard & Co., 23 07 1808.

37 For example to Hawkinson, , 24 11 1787.

38 Widow Henry Ravee & Son to Holroyds, 22 07 1785, and Holroyd's reply.

39 Mem. Manchester Lit. & Phil. Soc., 1789, I, 27. This paper was in fact read to the Society, 3 October 1785.

40 Aikin, J.: A description of the country for thirty to forty miles around Manchester, London, 1795, p. 165.

41 Ibid., 161.

42 On Mercer see Parnell, E. A.: Life and Labours of John Mercer, London, 1886.

43 Baines, E.: A History of the Cotton Manufacture, London, 1835, p. 285.

44 Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., 1849, cxxxix, 393401.

45 Arthington, to Cooper, , 20 07 1757; Wilson, to Lomas, Henry, Wigan, 29 10 1806; Wilson, to Baird, James, 25 02, 5 03, 23 March and 2 04 1808; Holroyds, to Mitchell, , 26 10 1787.

46 First Report, q. 2433; Second Report, q. 5277, 5661, 5907, 5916.

47 Chem. Gaz., 1850, viii, 461.

48 Baines, : op. cit., 278

49 Parnell, : op. cit., 37.

50 Chem. Gaz., 1850, viii, 73.

51 Chem. Gaz., 1842–1843, i; 115116, 273275; 1849, vii, 452.

52 Jour. Roy. Soc. Arts, 18611862, x, 172.

53 Lecher, H. Z.: Early Synthetic Dyes, in Proceedings of the Perkin Centennial, New York, 1956.

54 Jour. Roy. Soc. Arts, 18611862, x, 171.

55 Schutzenberger, M. P.: Traité de Matières Colorantes, 2 vols., Paris, 1867, vol. i, I, p. 411.

56 Jour. Roy. Soc. Arts, x, 172; Proc. Roy. Inst., 18581862, iii, 204.

57 Chem. Gaz., 1846, iv, 229234.

58 Ibid., viii, 1850, 329ff.

59 Proc. Roy. Inst., 18661869, v. 573.

60 Ibid., 1870–1872, vi, 120.

61 Manchester Guardian, 14 01 1903; Manchester Faces & Places, 1897, ix, no. 1, 16.

62 Jour. Roy. Soc. Arts, 1876, xxiv.

63 Statistical Abstract of the United Kingdom. These figures include re-exports.

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
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