13 December 2008, Birkbeck College, London
The meeting was introduced by the Society’s Chairman, Dr Robert Anderson, with a discussion of the notion of diaspora as applied to the history of chemistry and how we might, as historians, seek to investigate such a phenomenon. As he put it, “how many Scots does it take to make a disapora?” Was there indeed such an effect, and if there was, how significant was it? Were there long term effects on the science and can we, as historians, trace these? Dr Anderson suggested that we might find three phases of diaspora, the first the effect of the Act of Union of 1707, the second post 1726, where the medical school of the University of Edinburgh sought to stem the flow of students leaving Scotland for Leiden, and a third phase where these Scottish trained medical students found posts teaching chemistry in English and foreign universities. He mentioned in particular the strong links between UCL’s chemistry department and Edinburgh. He concluded that we might legitimately point to some effect of diaspora in the fact that neither the Glasgow nor the Edinburgh Chairs of Chemistry were held by non-Scots until the 20th century. There was, he suggested, a unidirectional flow of chemistry from Scotland out into the wider world and this might well be described as ‘diaspora’.
The first paper was given by Dr Georgette Taylor and was entitled Chemistry translated from Scotland to London: George Fordyce’s modifications to William Cullen’s chemical pedagogy. This paper offered a case study of the translation of William Cullen’s philosophical chemistry from Edinburgh to London, through one of Cullen’s early students, George Fordyce. Fordyce graduated MD at the University of Edinburgh in 1758, and almost immediately moved to London and began to give courses on chemistry in his house in Essex Street. He continued to teach his course for almost thirty years and it is certainly possible to argue that he was in this way extremely influential upon the course of the science. Dr Taylor gave an account of the structure of Cullen’s chemistry course, noting particular features of his philosophical chemistry, in particular the role of his affinity theory in his pedagogy. Affinity was used to structure his chemistry course as well as to explain and to justify the chemist’s actions. Dr Taylor gave an account of a correspondence between Fordyce and Cullen that took place soon after Fordyce left Edinburgh. This was initiated by Fordyce, who sent his old master a draft paper (intended for the Royal Society) setting out a novel way of dealing with complex chemical combinations. Over an exchange of letters, Fordyce endeavoured (and failed) to persuade Cullen that his own somewhat tortuous methodology was an improvement on Cullen’s teachings. Diasporic relations were, in this case at least, characterised more by a continuing relationship rather than a straightforward dispersion. She then compared Cullen’s course with notes of Fordyce’s courses from early in his lecturing career and much later, showing that while the emphasis on affinity, and much of the broad structure of Cullen’s course was indeed ‘translated’ to his London courses, Fordyce’s courses diverged from those of his old master in a number of theoretical aspects. In particular, where Cullen had argued that it was inappropriate to include speculations on the ultimate nature of matter, Fordyce introduced a complex and innovative matter theory, focused on what he called ‘chemical elements’ and the union of individual particles of such elements, a feature which, as many present immediately noticed, unavoidably evoked the Daltonian future of such speculations. Thus the ‘translation’ of Cullen’s philosophical chemistry to London by George Fordyce was characterised by an instructive blend of continuity and contradiction, the result of the quite particular modifications and adjustments that Fordyce made to Cullen’s chemical pedagogy.
The second paper, given by Professor Colin Russell, entitled Pioneer in the Scottish Chemical Industry: Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald, moved the meeting on from chemical pedagogy to early chemical industry. Professor Russell focused on the work of a gentleman chemist, Archibald Cochrane, the 9th Earl of Dundonald. Dundonald came from a naval family, and indeed served briefly himself, but returned to the family estate at Culross Abbey, where he experimented on ways to revive the fortunes of his financially impoverished estates. His estates were, however, rich in wood, coal and iron ore, and the Earl seems to have been in touch with a number of men of science such as Joseph Black, Josiah Wedgwood, and Humphrey Davy. Dundonald set up a number of manufacturing plants to try to exploit his chemical discoveries across the border in the industrializing north of England. Dundonald pioneered a new industrial method of production of coal tar, intended to be used to coat ships to make them watertight and protect them against worms. This method also produced coke, and yet another new discovery, coal gas. He was early involved in the setting up of a works in Newcastle upon Tyne to extract soda from salt, and later set up the first British works for the production of large quantities of alkali using the Leblanc process in Sunderland. He also worked on the improvement of textiles, worked out how to get flour from potatoes and made some important discoveries in agricultural chemistry. His work was, throughout, concerned with the practice and application of chemistry and, characterised by a strong empiricism. However, In spite of all this work, he was almost entirely unsuccessful in every commercial venture in which he took part. He could not sell the coke he produced, nor could he persuade the Admiralty to use his coal tar to protect their ships. He used coal gas for amusement only, and although he persuaded the British government to waive tax on the soda his works produced as it was experimental, his soda was thereby made unusable. As Professor Russell explained, Dundonald sacrificed both his land and his property in the cause of science, and yet died in poverty. In spite of this, Professor Russell argued, he was a founder of the British chemical industry, living and working in the cradle of the early industrial revolution, and indeed many of his ideas were to prove both useful and financially profitable in future years – although not to him.
The final paper was given by John Christie and took the diaspora somewhat further afield – America – On board the Alliance, the Harbour at L’Orient, 14th. May,1779. Dr Christie picked up Dr Anderson’s reflections on the notion of diaspora and how historians might use such an idea comparatively. His particular focus was based on his own typification of Scottish chemistry as being particularly focused on heat, material transformations, and their quantification., as serving to distinguish in some measure Scottish chemistry 1750-1780 from comparable chemical cultures. This typification is exemplified by the works of Cullen, Black, Robison and Irvine (all holders of the Glasgow lectureship in chemistry) on heat, electricity and their quantification. He pointed out that the master/student differential was more complex than it might seem at Glasgow and Edinburgh as the students were highly active on their own accounts., the early researches of the likes of Black, Rutherford Cleghorn and McLurg (a Signatory to the Declaration of Independence) being made whilst they were still students. He then discussed the career of Benjamin Rush, another signatory to the Declaration and a medical student of William Cullen at Edinburgh (although Joseph Black taught him chemistry). Rush also taught chemistry when he left Edinburgh, beginning in 1769 in Philadelphia. His syllabus of 1770 was, indeed, the first chemical textbook to be published in America. Dr Christie explained that Rush’s chemistry was closely comparable to Black’s and Cullen’s philosophical chemistry, although, as with Fordyce, differences could be noted. In the case of Rush, the same layout familiar from Cullen’s and Black’s courses was interrupted by sections explaining “the preparation of” particular pharmceutical items as their chemical bases occurred throughout the course, culled from the Edinburgh and London Pharmacopoeias. Rush’s course was oriented specifically at medical students and druggists. Where Cullen had been intent on making chemistry independent of medicine, Rush’s course sought in one sense to reverse this process, to make chemistry practically functional for medical utility.once more. To some extent, then, Rush’s chemistry was diasporic, but in other aspects his chemistry, seen from within the Scottish perspective, took a step backwards, in consequence of his particular location. Rush’s chemical researches, on mineral water analysis, were also medically focused, but in addition to standard experimental test procedures, used the recent ‘fixed air’ test derived from his teacher Black’s research, The only evidence of American interaction with Scottish thermal chemistry came from a late (1787) paper on evaporation by Mitchill of New York (grad. Edin. 1786). From Philadelphia, Dr Christie, still in quest of American involvement with Scottish research, finally took us to the Alliance, and an account in the diary of John Adams, the Revolutionary leader and later U.S. President, of a meeting between Adams and a ‘Dr Brooks’, surgeon of the Bonhomme Richard (named by the French king for Ben Franklin’s character, Poor Richard, and captained by John Paul Jones)). Adams was on a mission to exchange British and American prisoners. Adams’ account of one afternoon’s tea with the officers of the American warship, includes reference to a discussion of chemistry in which ‘Dr Brooks’ mentioned ‘Dr Erving and Dr Black’, and demonstrated an extraordinarily up to date grasp of cutting edge developments in the quantification of chemical heat, typical of Scottish chemistry. Bonhomme Richard led the naval battle off Flamborough Head later that year, and though victorious, eventually sank. Whether Dr. Brooks survived, or his bones lie off the Yorkshire coast, is not yet known. Dr Christie is still in pursuit of this mysterious ‘Dr Brooks’ who appears to offer further evidence of the Scottish Diaspora that we have been in search of during this meeting.
The meeting closed with the presentation of the 2008 Partington Prize, jointly to Jennifer Rampling of Cambridge University for “Establishing the Canon: George Ripley and his alchemical sources” and Georgette Taylor of University College London, for “Tracing Influence in Small Steps: Richard Kirwan’s Quantified Affinity Theory.”
26-28 March 2008, Durham University
Sponsored by the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, the British Academy and Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study and Faculty of Arts and Humanities
This symposium, held in Durham over three days from 26 th to 28 th March 2008, brought together historians and philosophers not just of chemistry, but of a variety of physical and life sciences to explore the strategies and techniques that scientists of past and present have employed to model and representations of matter. A dauntingly wide brief, but as it quickly became clear, with particular historical and philosophical themes that proved to be significant across all the scientific disciplines dealing with matter and its behaviour. One example of such a theme is the relationship between such models with the empirical evidence from which they are drawn and the theories which they purport to represent. Another theme, of particular interest to historians of chemistry, was the role and evolution of tangible representations of models of matter and a third, again of particular interest to chemists and historians of chemistry was the way in which the representatives of different disciplines viewed each other’s models.
The first speaker was Professor Nancy Cartwright of London School of Economics and the University of California, San Diego. Professor Cartwright spoke on “Models: Parables versus Fables”. Her discussion drew on a consideration of the problems arising from unrealistic assumptions in models with a particular focus on Galilean thought experiments. She showed that the abstraction from the particular to the general involved in the construction of a model is crucial to the determination of the interpretative conclusions that can be drawn from it. And finally, she argued for a view of models as parables rather than as fables as G E Lessing claimed, showing that as the moral of a parable needs to be brought in and defended, so too does the theoretical interpretation of a model need to be ‘written in’ by invoking a network of background theory and experience.
The second speaker was Professor Ronald Giere, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, who offered a new, multi-layered hierarchical account of theories and models and argued that a hierarchies could take different forms depending either from a single theoretical principle, multiple principles or indeed no principles at all. He also introduced his division of models into ‘principled models’ and ‘representational models’, arguing that principled models are drawn from the relevant theoretical principles of the relevant science, while representational models require a certain amount of interpretation of terms and identification of elements of the model with elements of the actual system under consideration. He gave brief examples of all three hierarchies, showing that in the case of the no principle account, as there are no theoretical principles, there are correspondingly no principled models and accordingly all that such accounts contain are representational models. Perhaps of most interest to historians and philosophers of chemistry is his multiple-principle hierarchy, in which many principled models that do not need to be compatible can be drawn on to create a single representational model.
The last speaker on the first day was Professor Seymour Mauskopf of Duke University on “Modelling Chirality”. Professor Mauskopf focused on the early developments of structural chemical models that preceded Louis Pasteur’s 1848 discovery that crystals of sodium ammonium racemate exhibited small hemihedral facets, sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left. Professor Mauksopf emphasised the influence of the 18 th century models of of René-Just Haüy which represented crystal structure as carefully built of integrant molecules added to a primitive nuclear form, and linked physical form to chemical composition. Touching on the models of Dalton, Ampére, Mitscherlich and Laurent, Professor Mauskopf traced the links between Gabriel Delafosse who was taught by Haüy and who passed on modifications of Haüy’s models to his student, Pasteur (Pasteur’s lecture notes survive). He also pointed to the influence of August Laurent’s extension of Haüy’s crystal model to chemical taxonomy, arguing that Pasteur’s work might be seen as a Laurentian research programme.
Dr Matthew Eddy, of Durham University and (currently) Caltech began the second day with his talk “Spatial Models, Print and Linnaeus’ Philosophia Botanica” which gave a close reading of Linnaeus’ 1751 work. This included a taxonomical system that ordered and classified the canon of natural historical works, including Linnaeus’ own which might be read as a model of natural history as a discipline. The Philosophia itself, Linnaeus classed as a ‘compendium’, a collection of other, already published, texts. Thus one genre in the taxonomy encompassed other genres in the same system. Dr Eddy also explored the spatial arrangement of the main contents of the work, which Linnaeus organised into tables of aphorisms. He showed that the meanings of the words of the text were closely related to their arrangement and textual style within the tables. Linnaeus employed a system of differentiation of particular words in the aphorisms by italicising, capitalising etc., to emphasise those aspects that he considered to be important, and this differentiation allowed the text to be read in a variety of ways. This kind of spatial modelling of the printed page added a number of extra dimensions to Linnaeus’ text, enabling a limited fluidity of interpretation of the text.
The fifth lecture was given by Professor Michel Morange of l’Université Paris 6 and the Cavailles Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science on Models in Molecular Biology and their Present Evolution. Professor Morange used an example of a particular molecular biological model, of the VEGF receptor, to point to some notable characteristics of the models used in molecular biology. These kinds of models combine structural and dynamic components, according to their significance in the context under consideration. In particular he emphasised and the ability of these kinds of models to represent generalisations drawn from a variety of different datasets. These kinds of models can operate as boundary objects, crossing disciplines with only slight modification, and they allow a number of different processes to be represented at once which can then be examined separately. He also emphasised the pedagogical and aesthetic strength of these kinds of models. However, the ambiguity of certain components, such as arrows, which might have a number of different meanings in a single model, and their tendency to accumulate more and more information detracted from their usefulness. He concluded his talk with a brief look at the current direction in which these models were evolving, noting the introduction of an ‘engineering spirit’ in biology that was evident in the models that are being used. These are more mathematical, more formal and more abstract – reflecting perhaps a change in what is regarded as ‘understanding’, from explanation to replication, analysis and synthesis.
Dr Michael Weisberg of the University of Pennsylvania spoke on “Models for Modelling Matter”. He focused on a topic dear to the hearts of many chemists, as well as philosophers and historians of chemistry: the nature of the explanations that chemists are looking for from their models in particular contrast to those that physicists consider satisfying. In particular, he sought to explain why chemists continue to rely on highly idealized models to explain properties of matter. In answering this question, Dr Weisberg adduced the fact that the kinds of questions that chemists ask are ‘contrastive why’ questions. Drawing on Roald Hoffman’s division of understanding into horizontal and vertical modes, Dr Weisberg argued that chemistry seeks the former kind of explanation which groups phenomena into chemically important kinds with common properties and trends, and that these are contrastive explanations. In order to compare a chemical phenomenon with a model, he suggested that the phenomena be abstracted and then paramaterized to give a paramaterized target system which could then be compared with the model. Models were subject to intentional notions of assignment, intended scope and fidelity criteria and the choice of an model with appropriate scope allowed the answering of chemical, contrastive why questions.
Dr. Eric Winsberg of the University of South Florida spoke on ‘The epistemology of simulation,’ arguing against a widely held view of simulation (in, for instance, meteorology), according to which what is epistemologically distinctive about it is mathematical. On this view, there are two mutually independent processes by which numerically intensive models are evaluated. The idea behind the distinction is that in order to deal with a mathematically intractable theory, scientists use a more tractable model that will (perhaps in some restricted domain) mimic the behaviour of the theory. Verification is the process by which scientists justify the assumption that the model does indeed mimic the theory’s behaviour, while validation is the process, common to all theory testing, by which the theory is evaluated as a representation of the target phenomena, via predictions and explanations afforded by the model. Relating his argument to recent work on the scope of scientific theories, Dr. Winsberg argued that the two kinds of evaluation are not independent.
David Knight of Durham talked about models made of wood and iron, and their slow deployment by chemists. W.H. Wollaston piled up wooden spheres and spheroids to explain how atoms might compose crystals of different forms; but when constructing formulae he favoured ‘equivalent weights’ rather than atoms, recipes rather then structures. Berzelius’ symbols represented volumes rather than atoms, and thus again algebra rather than geometry. Thomson hoped to construct an inductive chemistry based on analyses, but Laurent advocated a hypothetico-deductive approach that favoured models. In illustrating the abstract ‘type’ theory, Hofmann in 1865 moved from tables to little tin boxes (volumes) and on to croquet balls and wires: he realised the illustrative power of what he had done, and the new era opening up in chemistry as structures were revealed; saturation, homologies and substitution could be readily accounted for; and properties predicted. But his vision remained two-dimensional: models that had begun as tables remained flat. Van’t Hoff in 1874 saw that the four wires sticking out of the carbon atom would point to the corners of a tetrahedron instead: and he could thus explain what had puzzled Pasteur, how atomic structures, crystal form and optical activity might be connected: he recommended a supplier of models reflecting his ideas. Chemists, schooled since Lavoisier in scepticism about hypothetical entities, had not taken Daltonian pictures or Wollastonian models seriously enough. Thinking with the fingers, not merely doing experiments but also constructing toys, paid off.
Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Durham University then gave us a lightning historical tour of “Some of the Models of Physics” from the earliest days of Galileo and Hooke through the wave/corpuscle controversy through the various physical models that had held sway of light, atoms, elementary particles and cosmology. The symposium also featured an exhibition of artwork by Steve Sproates entitled “The Space between Models and Knowledge”, and Sir Arnold’s talk was concluded by Mr Sproates who gave a brief presentation on one of his pieces.
The day ended with a presentation from Keith Moore, Head of the Library and Information Services at the Royal Society on the Royal Society’s scientific archives and their plans for the 350 th anniversary in 2010.
The final day began with a talk by David Kaiser of MIT on “Searching for Stability: Theory, Experiment, and the Hunt for Superheavy Elements”. Dr Kaiser explored the relations between explanatory models and theory in the field of nuclear physics. Arguing that this particular discipline lacks first principles from which to derive models, he talked his audience through a number of the models utilised by nuclear physicists in their endeavours to explain phenomena. He showed that these models are carefully tuned to match empirical data, and so any testing must be based on a predictive extrapolation from the models. Attempts to detect superheavy nuclei on the basis of such predictions were unsuccessful; experimenters struggled to find the predicted nuclei, while theorists’ predictions varied wildly with only tiny shifts in the parameters of their models. An apparently successful experimental detection of superheavy nucleus 118 at Berkeley which agreed strongly with predictions from a cold fusion model prompted other nuclear theorists to alter their own favoured models to agree more closely with the empirical data. However, failure to replicate the experiments led to re-examination of the original data, which was found to have been fabricated. Dr Kaiser concluded that in the field of nuclear physics models were regarded as successful on the grounds of their empirical adequacy, and were neither derived from nor contained within any given theory. As no vertical relations could therefore be distinguished between theory, models and phenomenological laws, such relations would be better characterised as ‘horizontal jostling’.
Dr Robin Hendry concluded the symposium with a paper on “Models, Diagrams and Disciplinary Identity in Quantum Chemistry”. Dr Hendry compared the ‘view from physics’ with the ‘view from chemistry’ of molecular orbital and valence bond theories. He focused in particular on the views of John Clarke Slater, Linus Pauling and Charles Coulson. The first presented both theories as approximation methods and argued that a proper understanding of chemical bonding should be based on fundamental principles rather than on particular methods of calculation or particular models. For Slater, models were merely proxies for intractable exact equations derived from fundamental quantum mechanical principles. In contrast, Pauling’s valence-bond theory was a ‘classical chemical theory’ which tied the quantum-mechanical notion of resonance to G.N. Lewis’s chemical bonds and thus made it intelligible in chemical terms. Charles Coulson, on the other side of the bonding debate promoting molecular orbital theory, argued, like Pauling, that resonance and the bond should stand and fall together – but for Coulson, so much the worse for the bond! Instead Coulson showed chemists how to interpret molecular orbital theory in terms of familiar chemical concepts. Dr Hendry argued that the approaches taken by these three individuals illustrate the different views taken in physics and in chemistry to molecular modelling. Although Coulson and Pauling adopted different models, their attitude towards those models was similar. Where Slater had emphasised the priority of physical theory and a proxy view of models, they promoted a view of quantum chemistry as a synthesis of physical and chemical theory and concepts, and of autonomous models consistent with classical chemical concepts.
Georgette Taylor & David Knight
14th February 2008
On Thursday 14th February 2008 the Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group held a joint meeting with the Chilterns and Middlesex Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry to celebrate the award of the 2007 Sidney M. Edelstein Award for Outstanding Achievement in the History of Chemistry to Anthony S. Travis of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
The first paper was given by Chris Cooksey and was entitled “Peter Griess – the azo dye chemist.” Although azobenzene was discovered by Mitscherlich in 1834, and related compounds were prepared by Zinin and Hofmann, the potentialities of the class were not realized until Johann Peter Griess (1829-1888) began his work. Griess studied in Jena and Marburg, serving as Kolbe’s assistant in Marburg and then as Hofmann’s assistant at the Royal College of Chemistry in London. He moved on to the position of chemist in the Allsopp and Sons brewery in Burton-on-Trent in 1862 where he remained until his death in 1888. His duties at the brewery allowed him some spare time to pursue his interest in azo compounds. Griess had begun to study the azo compounds while still with Kolbe and discovered in 1858 that the reaction of aromatic amines with half an equivalent of nitrous acid gave coloured azo compounds, the forerunners of an historic class of fabric and leather dyes. This diazotization reaction was extended to the coupling with phenols in 1870 and with different amines in 1876. Commercially useful dyes began to emerge, oranges in 1876 derived from sulfanilic acid and reds for cotton from benzidine in 1884. Over the years, Griess published about 140 papers about azo compounds and just one concerned with brewing. While commercial success eluded Griess and by now most, but not all, of the early azo dyes have been consigned to history, he is still remembered in the forensic science field for the Griess test for explosive residues which was extensively used until recently.
J. Sérgio Seixas de Melo from the Department of Chemistry, University of Coimbra spoke on “Indigo and Mauveine: Molecules with Chemistry and History.” Indigo and violet are two colours of the rainbow that are also the colours of two molecules charged with history. Indigo is the oldest source of blue and is believed in many cultures to possess unique talismanic properties. Although initially extracted from Indigofera plants, the chemical synthesis of this fascinating blue dye by Adolf von Bayer in 1878 (started in 1865) is associated with the genesis of the German chemical industry. The synthesis of mauveine in 1856 by W. H. Perkin is a landmark in the history of science and is properly associated with the birth of the chemical dye industry. In spite of the importance of mauveine, recent discoveries of new mauveine structures in historical samples show that this molecule still has mysteries to unveil.
J. Sérgio Seixas de Melo presented a study of the analysis of mauveine samples from different provenances collected by Peter Morris from the collection at the Science Museum, London. In addition to the known Mauveine A, B, B2 and C forms, new structures responsible by the violet colour of mauveine, found in historical samples, were presented. The origins of these were considered based on analysis of the percentage distribution of the different mauveines and the counter-ions present, etc. This work suggests that although one of the samples was marked as a sample of the original mauveine dye manufactured by Perkin it dated instead from 1862. Furthermore, the historical samples contained not two but at least thirteen different compounds
The final paper in the morning session was given by David H. Leaback of Biolink Technology and was entitled “Pioneering Post-Mauveine Synthetic Dyestuffs from Newington & Hackney Wick.” David Leaback outlined how William Perkin’s exploitation of the discovery of mauveine triggered a remarkable burst of innovative British chemical and industrial development, much of which resulted from Perkin’s refusal to work on his dye with A.W. Hofmann and E.C. Nicholson, thus provoking the creation of a formidable academic alliance with the new rival firm of Simpson, Maule & Nicholson. Perkin & Sons and Nicholson’s firm displayed their dye products at the 1862 London Exhibition. As adjudicator, A.W. Hofmann, praised both exhibits and predicted Britain’s world domination of this brilliant new industry. However it was Nicholson’s display of a dazzling Imperial Crown of gleaming roseaniline crystals that attracted the crowds. Hofmann undoubtedly knew that Nicholson had already made important advances in chemistry leading to whole families of colour-modulated new dyes such as Hofmann Violets and aniline blues. By this point the craze for mauveine was now clearly over, and Perkin’s financial problems were such that he was planning to sell or leave Perkin & Sons of Brentford. However he then discovered industrial processes to make artificial alizarin, which launched Perkin & Sons into four more years of prosperity. Moreover, with that red colour, Perkin and Nicholson ‘ReWove the Rainbow’ with synthetic dyes in just 13 years.
E.C. Nicholson, meanwhile, realised he had to rebuild his burgeoning business in larger improved premises and chose Hackney Wick in East London. He completed this mammoth task in three years, but then sold his enterprise to Brooke, Simpson & Spiller, a new firm headed by Edward Brooke a wealthy, non-chemist, self-aggrandising merchant of dyes. Six years later, he also bought Perkin & Sons, but not having scrutinised its operations, he soon came to regret the purchase. Chastened, the Greenford assets were stripped, and experienced chemists such as Prof. Ralph Meldola were appointed, not only to research new dyes, but also to advise on management at Hackney Wick. Work recovered there for a while, but their chemists complained of inadequate investment in the business and the firm ceased trading in 1904. Dr Leaback concluded by arguing that Perkin & Nicholson were rare exceptions to what could be considered the usual British malaise of failing to exploit great discoveries commercially. In both of these cases the two talented chemists worked closely with effective businessmen like T.D. Perkin and George Maule in relationships, which merchant Edward Brooke failed to establish in his ill-informed, ill-considered and ill-fated purchase of Perkin & Sons in 1874.
Alan Dronsfield introduced the afternoon session and the lecture which Tony Travis had given as his Edelstein address: “‘What a wonderful Empire is the Organic Chemistry.’” Brushing aside norms of historical accounts of the synthetic dye industry, and reverting to past visions and seemingly unrelated disciplines and ideologies, this paper ventured different, and novel, perspectives of the industry. Through the lives of four individuals, the remarkable and spectacular status that the dye industry once held was acknowledged. The main protagonists are: Theodor Herzl, founder of political Zionism; Heinrich Caro, industrial research leader at BASF of Ludwigshafen; Raphael Meldola, British dye chemist and disciple of Charles Darwin; and Carl Schorlemmer, first British professor of organic chemistry and avowed socialist. The title of the lecture came from a short story by Theodor Herzl, “The Aniline Inn,” which first appeared in 1896. In this allegorical account a professor of philosophy is disillusioned with life and goes out for a walk, contemplating suicide in a nearby river. Next to the river is a factory engaged in the manufacture of aniline dyestuffs. The story of how coal tar waste was processed to produce these valuable commodities provides a symbol of hope to the professor. As the professor saw that even from discarded waste there can be obtained much that is good and useful, the journalist Theodor Herzl, was now destined to adapt his life to serve the needs of the vast discarded waste of the oppressed Jewish people.
The next protagonist discussed was Heinrich Caro (1836-1910), who is best known for his work on the synthesis of artificial alizarin and as research director at BASF. In 1891 Caro produced his own epic and celebratory narrative of the dye industry which remains the most complete history of the industry during its formative years. In contrast, the British dye chemist, Raphael Meldola (1849-1915) used the notion of the survival of the fittest to articulate his own interpretation of the dye industry. His well-researched history served his agenda of concerns over the neglect of technical education, a perspective that resulted from his second period of employment in the dye industry at Brooke, Simpson and Spiller. Finally Carl Schorlemmer (1834-1892), a German born organic chemist who worked in the Manchester dye industry and became the first professor of organic chemistry at Owens College, Manchester, in 1874 was discussed. He wrote a short but widely acclaimed history of organic chemistry which became a model for future histories of science and became a metaphor for later political and academic ideologies by emphasising the wider impact of the manufacture of coal-tar products. In contrast, nowadays, the story of the dye industry is almost forgotten, with the industry having all but disappeared from countries in Western Europe. The sesquicentenary of the discovery of Perkin’s mauve in 2006 had a low profile compared to the Einstein celebrations of 2005, the tercentenary of Carl Linnaeus’s Birth in 2007 and the commemorations planned for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150 years since the publication of the Origin of the Species in 2009.
Tony Travis lecture is printed in full in the Bulletin of the History of Chemistry, vol. 33, no. 1, 2008 and can be found online. Please click HERE for the PDF.
Peter J. T. Morris of the Science Museum then spoke on “Interesting Perkin and Post-Perkin Dyes from the Science Museum’s Collections.” From various sources, notably the Colour Museum in Bradford, the Science Museum has built up a major collection of synthetic dyes. As well as shedding light on the history of the dyes themselves, the dye jars give valuable information about the dye-makers. There are also plenty of obsolete dyes to be found – including AGFA’s Aurantia (the ammonium salt of hexanitrodiphenylamine).
The corporate history of the dye industry was illustrated through dyes such as those from the firm of Weiler-ter-Meer, founded in 1877 and which became part of IG Farben in 1925.The fate of A Leonhardt & Co of Mulheim am Main, near Frankfurt is less clear. An early partnership broke up, but it was listed as a limited company in 1895 and it appears to have been taken over by IG Farben in the 1920s, although evidence is lacking. Midori Blue (a form of Prussian Blue) was produced by G Siegle & Co of Stuttgart. In 1873 the firm was acquired by BASF to act as a sales arm but in 1889 Siegle purchased the firm back again. The dyes collected also provide an insight into changes in the manufacturing procedure. In the collection there are six muslin samples dyed with natural indigo and donated by the Behar (sic) Planting Association in 1914. Adolf Baeyer first synthesised indigo in the laboratory in 1878, but its industrial synthesis proved more difficult, although natural indigo was eventually superseded.
The final session was chaired by Chris Cooksey and began with a paper by Matthijs de Keijzer of the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage entitled “The early synthetic organic dyes: patents and international competition on a global scale.” The Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) is a leading, independent knowledge institute for the preservation and management of moveable cultural heritage. In 2003 the Research Department of ICN started the project “the early synthetic organic dyes” by choosing a selection of 65 well-known synthetic organics, covering all dye-classes, from 1850 till 1914.
This research project has two main aims.
Firstly: to collect historical information by studying the original literature sources, including the patent literature.
Secondly: to evaluate present techniques and to develop new techniques for the identification of these synthetic organic dyes.
To obtain a better idea of the history of the early synthetic organics it is of interest to understand the processes that influenced production in the most important dye producing countries in the second half of the 19 th century. Matthijs de Keijzer’s lecture resulted from a literature study and focused on the international competition between the countries, Germany, France, England, Switzerland and the United States of America in the period 1850-1914. In its first decade, Britain and France were the leading producers in the synthetic dye industry, but in the middle of the 1860s Germany came to dominate the global market until the outbreak of World War I with Switzerland in second place. The situation in each country was discussed and explanations were given as to why France and Britain lost their international position. The success of Germany was attributed to the following factors: the patent system, education and training, company and academic collaboration and political processes.
Ernst Homburg of the University of Maastricht spoke on “The Dye Chemists: prospects and problems concerning a new database.” Over the last ten years Peter Murmann and Ernst Homburg have constructed a File Maker Pro relational database of synthetic dyestuffs firms and plants from throughout the world, between 1848 (picric acid, Collas) and 1914. At present, there are 745 different firms (i.e. legal entities) in the firm database, and 613 different plants (i.e. material entities) in the plant database. The first results of the analysis of the data have been published in Johann Peter Murmann, Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutions (Cambridge University Press 2003), and in J.P. Murmann and E. Homburg, “Comparing evolutionary dynamics across different national settings: the case of the synthetic dye industry, 1857-1914,” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 11 (2001), 177-205.
In 2006 Murmann and Homburg also decided to construct a data base of dye chemists, with the aim of tracing their career mobility. This will help analyse the knowledge transfer between dyestuff firms as a result of the transfer of chemists, and also will obtain a more quantitative picture of the major university laboratories where the dyestuff chemists were trained at different points in time. As a first step, Murmann and Homburg have experimented with an automatic transfer of data from seven membership lists of the German Chemical Society (1870, 1877, 1886, 1892, 1901, 1906, and 1914) into the database. Peter Murmann together with the assistant Ruud Geven, developed the methodology on how to do this. As a result, the database constructed includes not only dyestuff chemists, but in fact all members of the German Chemical Society in the seven years mentioned. During the last few months Ruud Geven has enriched the database by entering a card system of several hundreds of dyestuffs chemists, which Ernst Homburg constructed in the 1980s. As a result on 15 September 2007 the database had entries for 10,676 different chemists. Ernst Homburg then spoke on the methodology developed for the automatic construction of the chemist database, and presented some first results of the analysis of the data.
The final paper was given by Carsten Reinhardt of the University of Bielefeld and was entitled “Innovation Spectrum. Dyestuffs Research, c. 1900.” Covering the whole spectrum was the major impetus for the innovation efforts of the synthetic dye industry. This did not only apply to colours, but also to other fields of application such as fastness, the applicability to the whole range of fabrics, etc. In order to achieve this, dyestuff companies tapped many “sources of innovation.” Among them were creativity, competitiveness, analogy, imitation, users’ input, and academic collaborators. The talk analysed the interplay of this spectrum of innovative activities at two major German companies at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the objective of countering uniform stories about the sources of innovation.
Although not wanting to doubt the importance of the typical structure of the research system of a large chemical company around 1900, Carsten Reinhardt argued for a more careful consideration of technological and scientific creativity in industrial research. Many of the inventions that originated in industry were the products of specialised and experienced research chemists, and quite often research groups stood in fierce competition to be first. This competition closely resembles that of academic chemists which is so well known in the isolation, structural elucidation and synthesis of organic compounds. Examples include the decade long struggle of René Bohn at BASF with Robert E. Schmidt at Bayer (alizarin dyestuffs), and Conrad Schraube of BASF with Eduard Hepp of Kalle & Co. (indulines, a class of aniline dyestuffs). Patents had a crucial function in the development of an independent knowledge base of dyestuff chemistry. Together with the products of the competitors, patents served as guide and starting point for further research