The Rise Of The Modern Chemical Industry

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Chapter 18  The Rise Of The Modern Chemical Industry by A Short History of Technology By Derry and Williams

Mid-18th Century: Demand for chemicals for Textile, glass and soap industries. Demand for alkali increases.

Alkali was critical in the manufacture of glass, textiles, paper, soap, and other products. In 1775 the French Royal Academy offered a prize to anyone who could develop a process for transforming common salt (sodium chloride) into caustic soda (sodium hydroxide).

Nicolas Leblanc: invented a method — Leblanc’s Process (1787)  — of making caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) from salt that became one of the most important chemical processes of the nineteenth century.

Leblanc Process

The first step involved heating common salt with sulfuric acid to produce salt cake (sodium sulfate) and hydrochloric acid:

2NaCl + H2SO4 right arrow Na2 SO4 + 2HCI

The salt cake was then roasted with a mixture of limestone or chalk and coal or charcoal. The resulting solid, known as “black ash”, consisted of soda ash, calcium sulfide, and unburnt coal:

Na2SO4 + CaCO3 + 2C right arrow Na2CO3 + CaS + 2CO2

The soda ash (Na2CO3 )could be washed out of black ash with water.

How glass is made

Chemistry for Kids How Is Glass Made? Glass is made from a mixture of sand, ...


James Muspratt ( was a British chemical manufacturer who was the first to make alkali by the Leblanc process on a large scale in the United Kingdom.

Charles Tennant’s St Rollox at Glasgow in 1830s became the largest chemical factory in Europe



The Five Senses by Rembrandt

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The paintings were created around 1624-5 when Rembrandt was still a teenager, and depict the five senses – a popular allegorical theme of the day.
Each picture shows three figures depicting one of the five senses. The painting on “Sense” is lost, perhaps forever.
“The paintings show that at the age of just eighteen, Rembrandt already has a genius for representing human character and emotion, and for packing in amazing amounts of detail into the briefest of brushstrokes – skills that would see him become one of the most celebrated artists of all time.”[1]

The Stone Operation (Sense of Touch)


Unconscious Patient (Allegory of Smell)

Three Musicians (Allegory of Hearing)

Spectacles Seller (Allegory of Sight)

1624, oil on panel

The fifth painting, Taste, remains lost and possibly destroyed.

What is enlightenment

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From The Enlightenment by Ralph McLean

The Enlightenment offered new perspectives upon such diverse topics as: political theory; economics; science and medicine; philosophy; education; literature; and history. It also sought to provide answers to questions about the development and progress of human nature. Indeed, it was hoped that all this accumulated knowledge, spread over a multitude of disciplines, would ultimately improve the lives of mankind and provide practical results that would serve in the general progress of humanity.

Kant also added that an individual should ‘have the courage to use your own reason’. This is emblematic of the period as it has been frequently referred to as an ‘Age of Reason’.

Nevertheless, modern scholarship has chipped away at this title, pointing to the fact that enlightened thinkers did not rely on a priori reason, but instead began to trust in experience and empirical testing. (Note: A priori knowledge  are things that are knowable independent of experience, as with mathematics (3 + 2 = 5). A posteriori knowledge are things that are dependent on experience. A posteriori knowledge is the same thing as Empirical knowledge or Empericism). The form that reason took during the Enlightenment therefore requires clarification. In the 18th century, reason began to shift from the rationalism of Descartes and instead came to embrace empiricism. As such, it was naturally sceptical of abstract reasoning or any other forms which eschewed these fundamental principles.

What is the difference between a-priori, Empiricism and Science?

In the philosophy of science, empiricism is a theory of knowledge which emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to experience, especially as formed through deliberate experimental arrangements.

It is a fundamental requirement of scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.


Rationalism vs. Empiricism

Logical empiricism

    1.  Vienna Circle
    2. Berlin Circle
    3. Logical Empiricism, Lectures by Prof Daniel Bonevac, U of Texas, Austin on Youtube
      1. Logical Empiricism
      2. Logical Empiricism: Criteria and Protocal Sentences
    4. Next

The Enlightenment

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“Together, Locke and Newton would become English figureheads of the Enlightenment. With Newton, Locke did so much to sponsor the 18th-century picture of the world as a kind of celestial clock, a vast and mechanical assembly of matter in motion, with man taking his place as an element, like a cog, in a regular and predetermined universe.”

Table of Content

  1. What is enlightenment?
  2. The Enlightenment relationship with the church
  3. Women in the Enlightenment
  4. Intellectual histories
  5. Literature as a historical source
  6. Areas for teaching
  7. Eighteenth-century education in theory and practice
  8. Politics and political theory in the 18th century
  9. Religion in the Enlightenment
  10. Science in the Enlightenment
  11. The Enlightenment in America
  12. The philosophy of aesthetics
  13. The Scottish Enlightenment
  14. Women in the Enlightenment


  1. The Enlightenment By Ralph McLean
  2. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)


See Industrial Revolution in The Modern Era

Chapter 7,  Capitalism And  Slavery by Eric Williams

European colonial empires at the start of the Industrial Revolution.


Before the 18th century, the manufacture of cloth was performed by individual workers, in the premises in which they lived.

In 1764, Thorp Mill, the first water-powered cottonmill in the world was constructed at Royton, Lancashire, England. It was used for carding cotton. The multiple spindle spinning jenny was invented in 1764. James Hargreaves is credited as the inventor.

The cotton industry was the capitalist industry par excellence.The first steam spinning mill was set up in England in 1785, the first in Manchester in 1789. Between 1785 and 1800, eighty-two steam engines were constructed for cotton mills, fifty-five of these in Lancashire alone. The first steam loom factory was built in Manchester in 1806. In 1835 there were 116,800 power looms in all Great Britain, all but six per cent in the cotton industry.

In 1785 the exports of British cotton manufactures exceededone million pounds in value;they were thirty-one million in 1830. The cloth printed in Great Britain increased from 20 million yards in 1796 to 347 million in i83o. The population employed by the industry rose from 350,000 in I788 to 800,000 in i8o6. There were 66 cotton mills in Manchester and Salford in 1820, 96 in i832. Cotton was “raising men like mushrooms.

British cotton imports rose from 11 million pounds in 1784 to 283 million in 1832. The New World, thanks to Eli Whitney, had come, not for the last time, to the rescue of the Old. The United States supplied less than one-hundredth part of British cotton imports in the five years 1786-1790, three-quarters in the years 1826-1830, four-fifths in 1846-1850. The British West Indian planter, faithful to his first love, sugar, could not keep pace with Manchester’s requirements. The sugar islands provided seven-tenths of British cotton imports in 1786-1790, one-fiftieth in 1826-1830, less than one-hundredth part in i846-1850.

The West Indies had built up Manchester in the eighteenth century.


Less spectacular, perhaps, but no less significant was the progress made in the metallurgical industries, without which the reign of machinery would have been impossible. Britain’s production of pig iron increased ten times between 1788 and 1830. There were three times as many furnaces in operation in 1830 as in 1788. The iron sent down the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Canals increased two and a half times between the years 1820 and 1833; from Cyfartha the export doubled, from Dowlais it trebled during the same period. In 1800 the proportion of home make to the foreign import was four to one; in 1828, fifty to one.

Britain after Waterloo,” Clapham writes, “clanged with iron like a smithy.
Iron smelting required coal. The coal mines worked in Northumberland and Durham almost doubled in number between 1800 and 1836, production increased from six million tons in 1780 to thirty million in 1836. An enormous saving was effected when in 1829 the invention of the hot blast in smelting reduced the coal fuel required by more than two-thirds.

Iron was being put to a variety of new uses pillars, rails, gas and water mains, bridges, ships. Wilkinson built a “cast iron chapel” for the Methodists at Bradley, and London even experimented with iron paving. But the greatest victory was in the construction of machinery. The early textile machinery was made of wood, by the manufacturers themselves or to their order. The decade of the twenties saw the emergence of the professional purveyor of machines made with the help of other machines, and the beginning of the manufacture of interchangeable parts which was facilitated by the invention of new tools and the discovery of the technique of cutting accurate screws. In 1834 the firm of William Fairbairn offered to turn out an equipped mill for any price, trade, site or motive power.

In 1832 the average iron master ranked, as capitalist and entrepreneur, on equal terms with the cotton spinner. In the Reformed Parliament not only cotton, iron, too, was ready to discard monopoly as a suit it had outgrown. Bar iron exports more than doubled between 1815 and 1833, and in 1825 Britain permitted what turned out to be a fatal decision a partial relaxation of the ban on the export of machinery. British rails covered the railroads of France and the United States. The sugar colonies took one-tenth of British iron exports in 1815, one-thirty-third in 1833; the United States one-quarter in 1815, one-third in 1833. The sugar planters, who had for so long enjoyed an unquestioned right to a box seat, could now barely find standing room.

The opponents of the measure, however, backed down afterthe King’s reluctant promise to create sufficient new^ peers, andthe Reform Bill became law. The political structure of Englandwas brought into accord with the economic revolution which had taken place. In the new Parliament the capitalists, their needs and aspirations were paramount. Once the colonial trade had meant everything. In the new capitalist society the colonies had little place. “The exportation of a piece of British broadcloth,” wrote Eden in 1802, “is more beneficial to us than the re-exportation of a quantity of Bengal muslin or of West India coffee of equal value.” 64 In 1832 an official of the East India Company explained to a parliamentary committee that woolens were exported to China, even when the market was not good, as a matter of tradition and duty: “it was considered a moral obligation.” Trade by “moral obligation” was one of the deadly sins in the gospel according to Manchester.

Note:  Jamaica’s sugar boom

In the mid-17th century, sugarcane had been brought into the British West Indies by the Dutch from Brazil. Upon landing in Jamaica and other islands, they quickly urged local growers to change their main crops from cotton and tobacco to sugar cane. With depressed prices of cotton and tobacco, due mainly to stiff competition from the North American colonies, the farmers switched, leading to a boom in the Caribbean economies. Sugar was quickly snapped up by the British, who used it in cakes and to sweeten teas.


The slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery in 1833, the sugar preference in 1846.

The advocates of East India sugar persistently attacked the West Indian monopoly. They called the islands “sterile rocks,” whose insatiable calls for money represented “an eternal sponge on the capitals of this country, both national and commercial.”

The West Indian monopoly was not only unsound in theory, it was unprofitable in practice. In 1828 it was estimated that it cost the British people annually more than one and a half million pounds. In 1844 it was costing the country 70,000 a week and London 6,ooo. England was paying for its sugar five millions more a year than the Continent. Three and a half million pounds of British exports to the West Indies in 1838,
said Merivale, purchased less than half as much sugar and coffee as they would have purchased if carried to Cuba and Brazil. Two-fifths of the price of every pound of sugar consumed in England represented the cost of production, two-fifths went in revenue to the government, one-fifth in tribute to the West Indian planter.

Time was when the leading statesmen were on the West Indian side. Now Palmerston lined up with the opponents of the planters.

The West Indians tried to stem the free trade torrent. Their exclusive possession of the home market was their just reward for the restrictions imposed on them by the colonial
system. The superior advantages of their rivals made competition impossible and the protecting duty indispensable to their preservation. In the case of India they pointed to the cheapness of labor, the abundance of food and unlimited extent of the richest soil, capable of irrigation and intersected with navigable rivers. Whatever the state of these colonies their refrain was always the same — protection. “Ruin” was ever the first word in their  vocabulary a word used to designate “not the poverty of the people, not the want of food or raiment, not even the absence of riches or luxury, but simply the decrease of sugar cultivation.”

West Indian claim for protection was weakened after 1836
when the protecting duty was extended to East Indian sugar
which could plead no such difficulties and disadvantages as
faced the West Indians.49 And Gladstone knew that the course
had been run. Protection could not be permanent, and even if
continued for twenty years, would not bring West Indian
cultivation to a sound and healthy state.

The colonial system was the spinal cord of the commercial
capitalism of the mercantile epoch. In the era of free trade the
industrial capitalists wanted no colonies at all, least of all the
West Indies.

To Molesworth, one of the outstanding colonial reformers, Britain’s colonial policy was motivated by “an insane desire of worthless empire,” as on the frontier of the Cape Colony in South Africa, where “the loss of one axe and two goats . . . has cost this country a couple of millions sterling.” Australiawas a collection of “communities, the offspring of convict emigration.”New Zealand was a constant headache with its “imbecilegovernors, discreditable functionaries, and unnecessarywars with the natives.” South Africa was “a huge worthless andcostly empire, extending over nearly 300,000 square miles,chiefly rugged mountains, and arid deserts, and barren plains,without water, without herbage, without navigable rivers, withoutharbours, in short, without everything except the elementsof great and increasing expense to this country.” In charge of this diverse and heterogeneous collection of colonies was theColonial Secretary, “traversing and retraversing, in his imagination, the terraqueous globe flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic pole hurrying from the snows of North America to the burning regions of the Tropics rushing across from the fertile islands of the West Indies to the arid deserts of South Africa and Australia like nothing on earth, or in romance, save the Wandering Jew.” The cost of protecting this empire was one-third of Britain’s export trade to the colonies. Colonial independence was cheaper. The colonies should be freed from the “ever-changing, frequently well-intentioned, but invariably weak and ignorant despotism” of the Colonial Office.

Capitalism And Slavery

Go Back To The Modern Age

Capitalism And Slavery By Eric Williams

  1. The Atlantic Slave Trade
  2. Atlantic Slave Trade: The South Sea Bubble
  3. The Cotton Empire
  4. African Migration to Colonial America
  5. Patterns of State Formation in Africa 600-1450AD
  6. Colonization in Africa 1880
  7. Trade and British Empire
  8. Migration and debate over slavery
  9. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)

African slaves working in 17th-century Virginia, by an unknown artist, 1670
William Beckford of Somerley, a Jamaican slave-owner and writer.

Slavery (1550 to the end of the 18th century)
The slave trade was one of the largest mass migrations of labour in human history. The first slave ship sailed from Africa to the West Indies in 1550 to meet the need for intensive field labour in the sugar and tobacco plantations owned by White settlers. It is estimated that over 10 million Africans were forcibly taken from mainly Western Africa to the Americas as slaves, many of whom died during the journey. Large numbers of people also died at the hands of the African traders who organised the raids and the forced march of slaves from their homes to the coast.

Indentured labour (1834-1917)
When slavery ended, slaves working on plantations in British colonies were replaced with another form of bonded labour – indentured labour. Indentured labourers came primarily from India and China. From 1834 to the end of the First World War, Britain had transported about 2 million Indian indentured workers to 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritious, Caribbean islands, parts of South America, Sri Lanka and South East Asia (Tinker, 1993). China was the next biggest source of indentured labourers who were transported to the Americas, Phillipines and the Caribbean islands.
Indentured workers were recruited by agents who received financial incentives for each person they recruited. This led to fraudulent practices such as misrepresentation about the work, wages and most commonly, the distance of the colony the workers were being transported to, and through kidnapping and forcible transportation (especially in China). The harsh conditions on the journey to the colonies and the poor working conditions on the plantations meant that many indentured workers died during the period of bondage. Though the indentured labourers were free men and women bound by a labour contract, in reality, their situation was not unlike that of slaves before them. The conditions at work were poor, wages often lower than promised and the hours were long.

Atlantic Exploration by Portuguese

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Figure 1.See Here The Magellan–Elcano voyage 20/9/1519 – 6/9/1522. Victoria, one of the original five ships, circumnavigated the globe, finishing 16 months after Magellan’s death.

End of Portuguese exploration– narrative
Cabral steered southwestward to avoid the calms of the Guinea coast; thus, en route for Calicut, Brazil was discovered. Soon trading depots, known as factories, were built along the African coast, at the strategic entrances to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and along the shores of the Indian peninsula. In 1511 the Portuguese established a base at Malacca (now Melaka, Malaysia), commanding the straits into the China Sea; in 1511 and 1512, the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, and Java were reached; in 1557 the trading port of Macau was founded at the mouth of the Canton River. Europe had arrived in the East.

It was in the end the Portuguese, not the Turks, who destroyed the commercial supremacy of the Italian cities, which had been based on a monopoly of Europe’s trade with the East by land. But Portugal was soon overextended; it was therefore the Dutch, the English, and the French who in the long run reaped the harvest of Portuguese enterprise.

Why European Exploration?

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Figure 1. The Silk Road and spice trade routes were blocked by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 spurring exploration to find alternative sea routes. Extent of Silk Road: Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route.

So, the Age of Exploration began. It was started by Spain and Portugal, two of the greatest naval powers of the 15th century.

In 1494, when Spain and Portugal divided the New World between them, with the Pope’s approval. He drew a line down the Atlantic, between the Americas and Africa, so that North and South America fell to Spain, except for the eastern corner of South America (Brazil), which fell to the Portuguese.

Spain did well out of the treaty. Columbus had already, in 1492, discovered Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and other Caribbean islands. Spanish power was established in Central America, including Panama, and the north and western coasts of South America, after the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires. ‘The Spanish Main’ – the north coast of South America – and the islands yielded pearls, gold and gemstones, but the biggest stroke of luck was the vast silver mine at Potosi, in Peru. By 1545 its production was being shipped to Spain as ‘pieces of eight’ in such quantities that European commerce was transformed.

The Portuguese had already established trading posts down the west coast of Africa. By 1600 they had contacts on the east African coast, Macao, India, Ceylon and ‘the Spice Islands’, Sumatra and Java, with other islands in the East Indian archipelago, as well as the southern end of the Burmese peninsula and Japan. They monopolised the profitable spice trade. But the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish was gathering strength. From 1598 the Dutch, and occasionally the English, attacked the Spanish/Portuguese far eastern empire as part of their campaign against Spain, with a view to capturing the spice trade. (Spain had annexed Portugal in 1580, but left the administration of Portugal’s far eastern empire in Portuguese hands.)

The British Explorers