John Roebuck

John Roebuck invented the chamber process for the safe manufacture of sulphuric acid which was used extensively in the linen industry . Although born in Sheffield he invented the process in Birmingham which was at the centre of the Midlands Enlightenment with the Lunar Society creating the modern world with an industrial revolution based on steam power delivered by Boulton and Watt’s steam engines built at The Soho Foundry in Smethwick just to the west of Birmingham a small manufacturing town which grew in importance as the 18th century turned to the 19th century and the industrial age with revolutions in transport with steam railways and steam ships powered by coal

The Iron Room

Diagram of a lead chamber reaction vessel, in ‘The Manufacture of Sulphuric Acid (Chamber Process) by Wilfred Wyld [A661.2]

John Roebuck was born in 1718 in the Yorkshire town of Sheffield, where he was educated at Sheffield Grammar School. In 1737, he began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh. There, he developed a taste for chemistry from the lectures of William Cullen (1710-1790), Professor of Medicine and Joseph Black (1728-1729), Professor of Chemistry, and in 1743, he published a thesis entitled “An enquiry into the effects of a rarefied atmosphere on the human body”. After finishing his studies he began practicing as a physician in Birmingham.

Roebuck had a keen interest in scientific matters, and especially their application in the industrial field, while Birmingham at this time had a thriving and expanding industrial sector. Being at the cutting edge of the industrial revolution, this included iron manufacture…

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