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British Industrial History

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Alexander Parkes

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Alexander Parkes (1813-1890), chemist and inventor noted for his development of various industrial processes and materials but particularly the material which was the basis for the first "plastic",

Much of Alexander Parkes's work was related to metallurgy. He was one of the first to propose introducing small amounts of phosphorus into metal alloys to enhance their strength. In all he took out 66 patents.

See also Parkesine Co

1813 December 29th. Born in Birmingham, son of a brass lock maker.

Apprenticed to Messenger and Sons, brassfounders

Subsequently worked for Elkington and Co, where he was in charge of the casting departments

1837 Married Jane Henshall Moore in Birmingham[1]

1841 His first patent was for electro-deposition of works of art

1841 Artist, living in Ladywood, Birmingham, with John Parkes 3, Jane Parkes 20, Catherine Parkes 1[2]

1841 Another of Parkes's important contributions was the discovery of the cold vulcanization process (1841), a method of waterproofing fabrics by means of a solution of rubber and carbon disulfide. This was carried out by Elkington, Mason and Co for a number of years.

1846 Charles Macintosh and Co purchased the cold cure process for £5,000.

1850 Jane Henshall Parkes died[3]

1850 Moved to South Wales to supervise the erection of Elkington, Mason and Co's copper-smelting works based on his patent which he had sold to the Elkingtons.

1850 One of Parkes' most significant inventions was a method of extracting silver from lead ore. This procedure, commonly called the Parkes process, involves adding zinc to lead and melting the two together. When stirred, the molten zinc reacts and forms compounds with any silver and gold present in the lead. These zinc compounds are lighter than the lead and, on cooling, form a crust that can be readily removed. This was used at Sims' works at Llanelly.

1851 Copper smelter, living in Pembrey, with his son Henry James Parkes 6, brother Henry Parkes 26, chemist, and sister Ellen Catherine Parkes 21[4]

1853 Left South Wales

1854 Married Mary Ann Roderick in Gloucester[5]

c.1855 Parkes also produced a flexible, durable material called Parkesine from a mixture of chloroform and castor oil that led to the development of the first plastic, celluloid. Parkesine was displayed at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London and the 1867 exhibition in Paris, receiving medals on both occasions.

1861 Tube Manufacturer, living in St Thomas, Birmingham, with Mary A Parkes 25, John A Parkes 22, Catherine J Parkes 20, Henry J Parkes 16, Howard C Parkes 14, Patience M A J Parkes 5, Karen Happuck F Parkes 3, Roderick H Parkes 2, Sarah E Parkes 6 mo, and his brother Henry Parkes 37, tube manufacturer[6]

1865 Alexander Parkes, Manager, Stephenson Metal Tube and Copper Roller Co, Liverpool Street, Birmingham.[7]

1871 Chemist, living in Erdington, Birmingham, with his wife Mary A Parkes 35, son Henry J Parkes 25, engineer, Howard C Parkes 23, accountant, Patience M A J Parkes 15, Karen H F Parkes 13, Sarah E Parkes, 10, Florence Parkes 6, Alexander Parkes 4, Beatrice Parkes 2, Eva Parkes, 3 months[8]

1881 Left Birmingham and moved to London

1890 June 29th. Died in West Dulwich, near London


See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Birmingham, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1937
  2. 1841 census
  3. Birmingham, England, Burials, 1813-1964
  4. 1851 census
  5. Gloucestershire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1938
  6. 1861 census
  7. 1865 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  8. 1871 census
  • [1] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
  • History of Plastics [2]
  • Dictionary of National Biography, Volumes 1-20, 22 for Alexander Parkes