|British Dyes: Views of Eminent Chemist
Sir William Ramsay, 1915
Reproduction of a letter to the editor of The Times by Sir William Ramsay, "British Dyes: Views of Two Eminent Chemists", The Times,
March 10, 1915:
Sir—Is it too late to amend the scheme of the “British Dyes (Limited)”? It is foredoomed to failure for at least two reasons.
The Cologne Gazette, quoted in your letter of the 2nd inst., characterizes it as a “fraudulent concern” and “wishes” much luck
to it! The attempt will be “interesting.”
The first reason for its certain failure is this:--It is not under the management of chemists. Scientific chemists must form an
important part of the directorate. Experience in the past shows this necessity. Let me quote the following instances:--Charles
Tennant, an accomplished chemist, founded the bleaching-powder industry at St. Rollox, Glasgow, in 1798. This business has
always been in the hands of chemists. In Lancashire, William Gossage, in 1836, made great economies in the process for
manufacturing alkali from salt. His works, together with the one already mentioned, and others form the United Alkali
Company. All of these were under the management of or belonged to competent chemists; among them may be mentioned
Muspratt, Hargreaves, Gamble, and Worsley. The Castner Kellner process has on its board Sir Henry Roscoe and Dr. Beilby,
both distinguished chemists, and both fellows of the Royal Society. The ammonia-soda process, originally patented by Dyer
and Hemming, was successfully introduced and managed by the late Dr. Ludwig Mond, a scientific chemist of high standing.
The paraffin industry was due to the late James Young, at one time an assistant of Professor Thomas Graham. He was a
competent chemist, and maintained complete control of the factory. Perkin’s and Spiller’s names are associated with the early
days of synthetic colours. These men were both pupils of Hofmann at the Royal College of Chemistry. The former, having
gained a competency by his manufacture, retired from business and devoted himself to pure research. The latter was for long
a partner in the firm of Brooke, Simpson, and Spiller. The firm of Spencer, Chapman, and Messel, which has for many years
manufactured sulphuric acid by the contact process, owes its inception and success to Dr. Messel, a Fellow of the Royal
Society. The quinine production is in the hands of Mr. David Howard, whose chemical ability is well known. The names of
Lawes and Gilbert ate conspicuous for the services they have rendered in connexion with the experimental farm at
Rothamsted. Sir John Lawes was one of the first, if not the first, to introduce artificial fertilizers, and for long managed his
works, which still exist.
Turning to metallurgy, the names of Lowthian Bell and Bessemer stand out. Both of these men were scientific chemists first;
successful manufacturers after. They both managed their undertakings. This list might be enlarged indefinitely; that
Germans have successfully copied British precedent is attested by the names of Caro, -von Martius, Brunk, and Bernthsen, all
directors of Badische Anilin and Soda Fabrik; of Bayers, of whom the leading spirit is Duisberg, and of hundreds of others. In
short, it would be difficult to discover a successful chemical industry which has not been initiated and controlled by a chemist.
Unless “British Dyes (Limited)” copies this precedent, there is little hope for it.
Second—No “protection” from foreign competition will save the situation. The only measure is total exclusion of German
dyes. Even yet we are blind to methods of German commerce. German manufacturers, backed by the whole power of the
German State (if at the end of the war there is a German State), will undersell our producers of dye-stuffs, secure the whole
market, and thus establish a monopoly. That has been their policy in the past; it will be their policy in the future. Let us be
warned in time. There is ample chemical talent in this country, both scientific and technical. What is needed is to call
together a council of chemists, ask for their collaboration in investigation and for their advice. Also it should be mentioned
that it is intended to exclude absolutely the importation of all German dyes, and capital will flow in.
Any other policy is shortsighted. The German chemical industry is worked as a huge trust, backed by the whole power of the
German State. The French and the Russians are seriously considering this policy of exclusion; and if Britain still permits
imports, this will be the dumping ground of all Germany’s chemical products, until, competition being strangled, we shall have
to pay exorbitantly for all manufactured articles imported.
Your obedient servant,
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Thomas Jackson for supplying this article.
Sir William Ramsay won the Nobel Prize for
Chemistry in 1904 for the discovery of the noble
gases neon, argon, krypton, and xenon.