Some founders of the Chemical Industry - Men to be remembered
J. Fenwick Allen
This book contains eight profiles of 19th. century chemical industrialists orginally published in the Chemical Trade Journal. The preface and the first part of the article on William Gossage is given below. Subsequent issues of Chemistry in Action! will contain the other articles. They will eventually be made available on the internet. Hopefuly this series will introduce some of the unsung and largely forgotten pioneers of the chemical industry in the U.K. and worldwide, told in the words of one of their contemporaries.
of the Chemical Trade Journal, Mr. George E. Davis, asked me, in 1889,
to write a few articles for his journal on some of the notable and truly
remarkable men who founded the Alkali Trade in Lancashire. The desire
has been expressed that I would republish these articles in a more permanent
#1 WILLIAM GOSSAGE
of thirteen children - Born at Burgh-in-the-Marsh - Left school before he
was thirteen years of age - Placed in druggist's shop - A man of genius
- Took out his first patent, 1823 - Gossage's patents tell the story of
his lifework - His French teacher - Missed success in many inventions because
no engineer to carry out his ideas - Started as chemist and druggist at
Leamington, 1828 - "Leamington Salts" - With Mr. Fardon founded
a salt and alkali works at Stoke Prior - Gossage and Benson, patentees,
as makers of white lead, 1839 - Benson the Archbishop's father - Gossage
invented his condensing towers, 1836 - Paper on "History of Alkali
Manufacture" read before British Association in Manchester, 1861 -
The beneficent effects of Gossage's inventions of Weldon, Mond and Chance,
in recovery of manganese from still liquors, and of sulphur from vat waste
- Gossage's sodium sulphide process - Gossage and Hussey Vivian's patent
for making zinc, 1843
No name among
the practical chemists of the present century is more deserving of a permanent
memorial than that of William Gossage. His character as an inventor was
exemplary for the unceasing industry and perseverance with which he pursued
his labours; and his inventions illustrate for nearly half a century the
progress of more than one department of chemical industry.
invention of 1836 paved the way for the passing of the great "Alkali
Act" of 1863, and its successors; so that now a chemical works may
be planted almost in the heart of an agricultural district, the condensation
of its most destructive gases being absolutely perfect. But it was not only
the prevention of the destruction of vegetation, and of injury to health
and comfort which this invention achieved; it economised what had before
been a waste product, and contributed in a very large measure to the beneficent
prosperity of the alkali maker. The utilisation of waste products might
be said to be the passion of his life.
We have said that the genius of William Gossage ever kept him far ahead of his time; this is notably illustrated in his patent, No. 7,416, taken out on the 17th August, 1837, in which he anticipates the successful processes of Weldon, Mond, and Chance. The condensation of muriatic acid stimulated the use and manufacture of chlorine; here manganese, then a costly agent, was wholly wasted, being run away as chloride of manganese. In his patent he says: "The decomposition of common salt by means of sulphuric acid may be effected, for the purpose of my improvements, in any of the apparatus usually employed, which provide for retaining the muriatic acid; but I prefer making use of certain improved apparatus for which I obtained his late Majesty's Royal Letters Patent, dated the 24th December, 1836. One modification of this apparatus as described in my specification of such patent consists of a condensing chamber, containing siliceous pebbles, in which the muriatic acid gas may be condensed by water alone, yielding liquid muriatic acid, or by a mixture of water with any substance or material on which it is desired that muriatic acid should effect a chemical action. When I use oxide of manganese in this apparatus, I inject a mixture of this oxide and water, and introduce steam, and the oxide of manganese being acted on by the muriatic acid, chlorine gas and liquid muriate of manganese are obtained as products. This liquid muriate of manganese being collected, I decompose it by means of hydrate of lime; and to effect this operation conveniently I use large shallow open vessels, each vessel having several shafts fitted with paddles, and extending across it, and so arranged that rapid motion can be communicated to them. I introduce into these vessels a quantity of hydrate of lime, made into cream of lime, and I gradually add to the shafts and paddles, so as to cause a perfect mixing of the fluids. During the operation a reaction takes place between the lime and muriate of manganese, and hydrated protoxide of manganese and liquid muriate of lime are produced in mixture. I expose this mixture to atmospheric air from which the hydrated protoxide absorbs oxygen; I accelerate this absorption of oxygen by causing the fluid mixture to be projected into the air in finely divided particles by communicating rapid rotatory motion to the shafts and paddles before mentioned. The absorption of oxygen converts the hydrated protoxide of manganese into hydrated peroxide."
Complete as these reactions are, and simple as the process seems to be, as a fact, it never was adopted, and not until Mr. Walter Weldon gave his attention to the recovery of manganese liquors, more than thirty years afterwards, did the alkali manufacturer save his manganese. Mr. Weldon recognised fully that the chemistry of his process was demonstrated by Mr. Gossage; and Mr. Gossage recognised the ability and the perseverance with which Mr. Weldon, aided by vastly improved mechanical appliances, brought his invention to a tangible success. To the engineer rather than the chemist is the triumph of Weldon to be attributed.
The second portion of this memorable patent of August, 1837, forecasts the successes of Mond and Chance in their successful sulphur recovery processes. Gossage saw that the sulphur used in the Le Blanc processes was absolutely wasted, and nine-tenths of the total sulphur employed went into "vat waste." To save this sulphur was one of his earliest efforts, and, as year after year passed by, we find him struggling with the difficulties of the problem, sealing patent after patent. In the paper read in 1861, to which we have before adverted, he says on this subject: "Thus was presented a problem, which, if it could be solved, would effect a large reduction in the cost of soda. Many chemists, both scientific and practical, had given a great amount of attention to the subject; he had been so unfortunate as to be amongst that number, as he had devoted a great proportion of his time during a quarter of a century, and a large amount of both money and labour to the delusive subject. He commenced by demonstrating that one equivalent of carbonic acid would decompose one equivalent of sulphuret of calcium, producing mono-carbonate of lime and sulphide of hydrogen. This decomposition was contrary to the received views of the scientific chemists of that day, as it was held that an excess of carbonic acid was needful to effect the perfect decomposition of sulphides. He was convinced that whenever the utilisation of the sulphur in alkali waste should be effected it would be by means of carbonic acid." This conclusion was not arrived at without long years of patient experiment. His patents at one time indicating that his hopes rested on muriatic acid, and at another time on sulphurous acid, but his first thought was his last thought, and as Mr. Chance proved was his right thought.
The patent of 1837 states "as to that part of my invention, which relates to the use of the alkali residuum, which as I have stated contains sulphuret of calcium and carbonate of lime, when this residuum is acted upon by muriatic acid, a mixture of sulphuretted hydrogen gas and carbonic acid gas is evolved, these mixed gases being placed in contact with another portion of alkali residuum, the carbonic acid reacts on the sulphuret of calcium and liberates therefrom a further quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen. Carbonic acid being thus absorbed and abstracted from a mixture of gases, sulphuretted hydrogen is obtained nearly free from carbonic acid gas, and in a state favourable to undergo combustion, and thereby produce sulphurous acid. Instead of obtaining sulphuretted hydrogen from alkali residuum by means of muriatic acid - he says - I sometimes use carbonic acid gas as the agent for effecting the reaction with sulphuret of calcium. The gas obtained from alkali residuum by the process hereinbefore indicated may at once be used, but I prefer to collect it in a gasometer before I use it, and when I apply it to the manufacture of sulphuric acid I transfer it through tubes to a suitable apparatus wherein I cause it to undergo combustion. The action of carbonic acid on sulphuret of calcium contained in alkali residuum, as hereinbefore described, occasions the production of a quantity of carbonate of lime in addition to that previously contained in the residuum. I use the carbonate of lime which I obtain from the residuum for purposes connected with the manufacture of alkali instead of native carbonate of lime." Here we have suggested almost the details of the new plant which was erected more than fifty years after Gossage's specification, to work the process which Mr. Chance by the expenditure of so much money, and time, and labour, and with such ability has elaborated and perfected.
Mr. Gossage himself spoke of this problem of the recovery of sulphur from alkali waste as a delusion. He reviews his quarter of a century's work in a tone of sadness; describes himself as one of those unfortunates who had been fascinated to pursue this goalless path, but had he lived to to-day he would have witnessed that his baffled efforts, his renewed struggles, his confident hopes, his cruel disappointments, were not in vain. Once so firmly did he believe that he had grasped success that in a sanguine moment, when all obstacles appeared to have been overcome, he contracted with his neighbours to take their "vat waste" and treat it so as to extract the sulphur. This was a delusion; he soon discovered his error. With one painful exception his competitors released him from his engagement, but the one held him to "his pound of flesh," and relentlessly compelled him to fulfil his contract.
There are in the features of William Gossage, as they are handed down to us, to be detected traces of that sadness which must have been often felt during those long and severe struggles, and which must have been terribly hard indeed to bear when a neighbour's hand smote him a blow that had well-nigh been fatal, for the compulsory execution of that contract abstracted from him nearly all he possessed, possessions which he was always prepared to lavish on those objects to which he had so devotedly given his life, and which had been and are still of such inestimable value to the alkali trade generally.
Before leaving this subject of the recovery of sulphur there is to be noticed connected with this problem a patent which William Gossage took out thirty years ago; it is No. 2,612, dated November 18th, 1859, "For improvements in the manufacture of carbonate of soda." He therein specifies that the sulphate of soda is decomposed into sulphide of sodium by the action of carbon at a temperature insufficient to flux the mixture of sulphate of soda and carbon employed, and converting the sulphide of sodium so obtained into carbonate of soda by the action of carbonic acid; also the use of carbonic acid obtained by such decomposition of sulphate of soda for the production of carbonate of soda.
The chief alkali inspector (Mr. A. E. Fletcher) in his last report, published only a few days ago, revives the subject of this patent by drawing attention to the experiments that are being carried on by Mr. Fred Gossage and his partners at Widnes. He says: "It is expected that yet another process to effect at once the recovery of the Le Blanc process will shortly be made public. This process is due to Mr. Gossage, whose father was the pioneer of all such attempts. This gentleman has recently taken out a patent for producing sodium carbonate from salt-cake without the intervention of limestone in the furnace. He claims to have surmounted the difficulties hitherto experienced in converting the salt-cake into sodium sulphide, utilises the ordinary black-ash revolving furnace for the operation, and uses lime-kiln gases, as the others do, for evolving sulphuretted hydrogen from the sodium sulphide, with simultaneous production of sodium carbonate. The inventor regards his inventions on a large scale in the works as perfectly satisfactory, and it is hoped ere long he will favour us with a detailed account of his process. If it is found to answer all his expectations, it must be regarded as a distinct advance on what Chance has done. For, while recovering the sulphur of the pyrites by the same means and a similar method of working to that employed by Chance, it does so with a simultaneous production of sodium carbonate, eliminates the limestone altogether from the operation, and, while retaining the use of the expensive black-ash furnace, dispenses with some of the more cumbersome parts of the old plant, at the same time producing an ash of high strength and comparable in quality with that made by the ammonia process."
It would indeed be a most gratifying result if, after all, the crowning prize of the labours of these fifty years was awarded to the son of the man who was the first to enter the list, and who fought to the end of his days with such courage and determination.
In 1843, a patent was taken out jointly by William Gossage and Henry Hussey Vivian (the present Sir Henry Hussey Vivian, M.P.), for improvements in treating and reducing ores of zinc, etc. This appears to have been a first essay in metallurgy, and for a time Swansea became a field of work. The valley of the Tawe would present a scene that would move the inventor of the towers for condensing muriatic acid to grapple with the condensation of copper smoke. At that time large quantities of sulphurous and arsenious, as well as hydrofluoric acids, were emitted from the low stacks of the works that had been built along the riverside. The principal ores then smelted came from Cornwall, and were almost entirely sulphurets and arseniurets mixed with a considerable amount of fluor spar. These ores had to be calcined, and the furnaces employed were chiefly "open" calciners, from which concentrated gases were given off, which in the direction over which they were carried by the prevailing winds in wet weather proved most destructive to vegetation; the hill sides on which the smokes impinged, were denuded not merely of trees but of all herbage, and Landore and the rising ground around Hafod and Foxhole wore an utterly blasted and desolated aspect. It was in 1845 that a patent was taken out which included several metallurgical processes. It related to methods of treating sulphurets of copper, zinc, lead, and iron, and arresting and collecting volatilised products given off in working these metals, also it specified furnaces and apparatus for smelting sulphuret ores. The condensing of the various substances given off in vapour as sought to be effected by means of towers or shafts fitted with siliceous pebbles, which are moistened and present extensive surfaces to the products passed through them.
(To be continued in issue #61)