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Charles Tennant

(1768—1838) chemical manufacturer


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(1768–1838), manufacturing chemist and one of the key pioneers in the Scottish industrial revolution (see economy, secondary sector: 2). After a period of studying bleaching at Wellmeadow, he set up his own bleachfield at Darnly. Techniques for the bleaching of textiles in this period were notoriously primitive and involved the use of the natural properties of the sun or sulphuric acid. With the expansion of the cotton industry in the late 18th century, Tennant was in an ideal position to take advantage of the growing market for bleaching products and in 1798 he took out a patent for the manufacture of a bleaching liquid which was based on chlorine. This innovation was improved upon in the following year and Tennant successfully patented a solid bleaching powder which had considerable advantages over liquid bleach in terms of manufacture, transport, storage, and cost. In 1800 he established a partnership with Charles Mackintosh, William Cowper, and James Know to set up a chemical works in St Rollox, Glasgow. This concern grew to be the most important centre for the manufacture of chemicals in Scotland and was instrumental in providing the necessary dyeing and bleaching materials for the expansion of the Scottish textile industry in the 19th century, although the resultant air pollution did not enhance the local environment which became one of the most polluted sites in Glasgow. ‘Sniffer’ Tennant's habit of testing his compounds by smelling them left him with a disfigured nose.

From The Oxford Companion to Scottish History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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