The Chemical Industry.

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The Chemical Industry.

While the application of exact scientific methods to metallurgy was bringing about the transition from the Age of Iron to the Age of Steel in which we ourselves live, and the foundations of the electrical industry were being laid, the chemical research workers had not been idle in the field most obviously open to them--that of the dyeing and bleaching industry, which was to develop into the great chemical industry of our own day.

One must not speak too early of a separate industry in this connection, for apart from the salt and alkali works of Lancashire, which supplied the textile industry both at home and abroad, it was largely a matter of the by-products of coal, gas and ironworks, subsidiary and for a long time neglected.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the gas and coke industry sold its tar unanalysed at rubbish prices, and polluted the air and water with potentially valuable effluents; the alkali industry let its by-products run entirely to waste; the textile industry threw away the fertilizing scourings of the raw wool it used; the ironworkers illuminated - and blackened - the country-side with open-top furnaces which flared away a quarter of the value of fuel used.

The earliest results came from the study and analysis of coal and coal tar by William Perkin.

In 1856 a chance observation - one of those lucky chances which are apt to follow months of apparently fruitless work - led him to the discovery of the first of the coal-tar dyes: aniline mauve. Other analytical discoveries followed in rapid succession, but most of the work was done in Germany, where scientific training was more methodical and widespread. One after another of the natural dyestuffs was reproduced synthetically; at the same time disinfectant substances, from crude carbolic upwards, were isolated and refined. The Norwegian scientist Nobel made the fundamental discovery which led to the fearful power of modern explosives. (By the irony of fate he was himself a keen pacifist.) More perhaps than any other, the chemical industry continually ramifies into new fields. In the seventies celluloid was successfully made, and a series of other plastic materials followed. In the eighties and nineties a beginning was made on the production of artificial silk from wood cellulose. And a series of vitally important processes were worked out by which nitrates - all-important both for fertilizers and explosives, and till then only available in one great deposit in Chile - could be extracted from the air. This, like so many others of the same kind, was a German achievement; in fact, Great Britain took comparatively little part in the rise of modern industrial chemistry. It was not until the War had disastrously revealed Britain's dependence on German industry for fertilizers, dyestuffs, explosives and chemicals of all kinds that a native industry became important.


More information on - Electrical Discoveries

Wireless

The developments in transport in the last years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth were matched by others in communications in the wider sense.

Telegraphy had been rendered more efficient, though no cheaper, since its inauguration as a public service in 1844; the telephone was spreading over the country, though the number of subscribers in 2001, some 3000, was small enough compared with the 21 million noted in 2006.

With the year 1897 came the first successful experiments in a new method of communication - the wireless.

Marconi's first transmissions, in... see: Wireless


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