N° 472
Chemistry through the ‘Two Revolutions’: chemical Glasgow and its chemical entrepreneurs, 1760 – 1860
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The subject of this essay concerns the role of chemistry during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and as such its focus is upon“practical“ or “applied“ chemistry and its functional development within the rapidly industrializing circumstances of the town of Glasgow in the later 18th. and 19th. centuries.The earlier part of this period also witnessed the decades of the so-called Chemical Revolution, the developments in chemical science associated with Antoine Lavoisier and his French colleagues, initiated in the 1770’s and gaining increasing acceptance from the mid-1780’s onwards.
One theme of the essay is thus the form of relations holding between these “Two Revolutions“. Were the advances in practical, industrial chemistry significantly derived from the new chemistry, and how, more generally, may such technical innovations be historically understood.? A second theme concerns the variety of locations and forms of industrialized chemical production which characterize the period in question, and a third is the diverse nature of chemical entrepreneurship exhibited by Glasgow’s pre-eminent chemical industrialists.
Close attention is paid throughout to the chemical, industrial and social characteristics of specific Glaswegian sites, such as Tennant & Co.’s St. Rollox Works and the Macintosh family’s Dunchatton Cudbear Works. The presence of Glasgow’s commercial and educational institutions is also emphasized as significantly relevant for the social and intellectual formation of what became, by 1800, the first generation of industrial chemists in Glasgow. The essay concludes with further reflection upon the historiographical complexities attending our attempts to grasp the nature of economic, technical and scientific change during this revolutionary period.