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  • The British Journal for the History of Science, Volume 29, Issue 2
  • June 1996, pp. 171-194

The early history of chemical engineering: a reassessment

  • Clive Cohen (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2009

Very few historians have so far turned their attention to the history of chemical engineering, a discipline which impinges on aspects of industrial life as diverse as the manufacture of consumer goods and the generation of nuclear power. However, a number of practising and retired chemical engineers have produced accounts of the late nineteenth-century beginnings and subsequent development of chemical engineering. Their work has set the scene for more recent papers by two academic historians, Colin Divall and James F. Donnelly. There are two particular issues which are frequently discussed, and about which there is a general consensus in this body of work: the origins of academic chemical engineering, and the ways in which its development in the United States differed from that in Europe. In this paper I shall cast doubt on the now conventional picture of these two aspects of the history of chemical engineering.

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N. R. Amundson , ‘P. V. Danckwerts: his research career and its significance’, Chemical Engineering Science (1986), 41, 1947–55

F. J. van Antwerpen , ‘The origins of chemical engineering’, in History of Chemical Engineering (ed. W. F. Furter ), Washington, 1980, 114

R. Landau , ‘Academic—industrial interaction in the early development of chemical engineering at MIT’, Advances in Chemical Engineering (1991), 16, 41

L. E. Scriven , ‘On the emergence and evolution of chemical engineering’, Advances in Chemical Engineering (1991), 16, 3.

C. Divall , ‘A measure of agreement: employers and engineering studies in the universities of England and Wales, 1897–1939’, Social Studies of Science (1990), 20, 65112

J. F. Donnelly , ‘Representations of applied science: academics and chemical industry in late nineteenth-century England’, Social Studies of Science (1986), 16, 195234

K. Buchholz , ‘Verfahrenstechnik (Chemical Engineering) – its development, present state and structure’, Social Studies of Science (1979), 9, 42 and 54.

W. F. Furter (ed.), History of Chemical Engineering, Washington, 1980.

W. F. Furter (ed.), A Century of Chemical Engineering, New York, 1982.

D. E. H. Edgerton , ‘Science and technology in British business history’, Business History (1987), 29, 103.

J. Donnelly , ‘Industrial recruitment of chemistry students from English universities: a revaluation of its early importance’, BJHS (1991), 24, 6.

D. E. H. Edgerton and S. M. Horrocks , ‘British industrial research and development before 1945’, Economic History Review (1994), 47, 235.

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