Alexander Parkes

(1813—1890) chemist and inventor

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(1813–1890) British chemist and inventor Parkes, the son of a Birmingham lock manufacturer, was apprenticed to a brass founder and started his career in charge of the casting department at Elkington. He took out his first patent, which was for electroplating delicate objects such as works of art, in 1841. Eventually Parkes took out over 50 patents in this field; when the prince consort, Prince Albert, visited Elkington, Parkes presented him with a silver-plated spider's web. In metallurgy, Parkes also invented a process for removing silver from lead by extraction with molten zinc (the Parkes process).

He also worked on rubber and plastics. In 1846 he discovered the cold vulcanization process, which was important in the manufacture of thin-walled rubber articles. In 1855 he took out a number of patents on a new product initially called xylonite (or parkesine). Aiming to produce a synthetic form of horn, Parkes found that if the recently discovered nitrocellulose was mixed with camphor and alcohol, a hornlike substance was produced. It was not fully developed by Parkes however and it was left to the Hyatt brothers of New Jersey to develop it as celluloid, the first synthetic plastic material.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.