The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

The early history of chemical engineering: a reassessment

Clive Cohena1

a1 Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ.

Very few historians have so far turned their attention to the history of chemical engineering, a discipline which impinges on aspects of industrial life as diverse as the manufacture of consumer goods and the generation of nuclear power. However, a number of practising and retired chemical engineers have produced accounts of the late nineteenth-century beginnings and subsequent development of chemical engineering. Their work has set the scene for more recent papers by two academic historians, Colin Divall and James F. Donnelly. There are two particular issues which are frequently discussed, and about which there is a general consensus in this body of work: the origins of academic chemical engineering, and the ways in which its development in the United States differed from that in Europe. In this paper I shall cast doubt on the now conventional picture of these two aspects of the history of chemical engineering.