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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