The Perkin Jubilee and Chemical Industries

Abstract

AT the meeting held at the Mansion House on February 26, with the Lord Mayor in the chair, many men of position and influence in the scientific world met to do honour to Dr. W. H, Perkin, and to agree to celebrate the jubilee of his discovery of the first coal-tar colour. Whilst all felt not only the importance, whether from a purely scientific or from an industrial point of view, of this discovery, and whilst they all applauded Perkin's researches in other branches of science and his modest and retiring hearing throughout, the fact could not be lost sight of that although England was the country in which the coal-tar industry was founded, it had practically, since those days, passed out of our hands into those of the Germans. The cause of this, I remarked, was not due to any want of knowledge or power on the part of Dr. Perkin himself, but rather to the absence of appreciation by capitalists and others engaged in industry of the importance of scientific method, or, in one word, to English Philistinism, the result being that the successful prosecution of a new industry the very existence of which depends on high scientific attainment was impossible. In corroboration of this opinion, which was also expressed in an excellent article in the Times a few days before the meeting, I ventured to direct attention to the fact that, being at that time (fifty years ago) engaged in building up a chemical school at Owens College, I knew three talented young German chemists whose names have since become watchwords in Germany (Caro, Martius, and Pauli) who were then employed in chemical works in Manchester and the neighbourhood. These men were intimately acquainted with the colour industry, both in theory and practice, so far as it had then advanced, and were perfectly capable, as was afterwards proved, of carrying it on successfully. Had they been supported by men of financial light and leading in Lancashire the industry might have flourished in this country. Not, however, finding the necessary support here, they returned to Germany, where they became the leading members of the great colour works at Ludwigshafen, Höchst, and Berlin.

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