Albright and Wilson
Albright and Wilson was founded in 1856 as a United Kingdom manufacturer of potassium chlorate
Potassium chlorate
Potassium chlorate is a compound containing potassium, chlorine and oxygen atoms, with the molecular formula KClO3. In its pure form, it is a white crystalline substance. It is the most common chlorate in industrial use...

 and white phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

 for the match
A match is a tool for starting a fire under controlled conditions. A typical modern match is made of a small wooden stick or stiff paper. One end is coated with a material that can be ignited by frictional heat generated by striking the match against a suitable surface...

 industry. For much of its first 100 years of existence, phosphorus-derived chemicals formed the majority of its products.

It was set up as a Partnership
A partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.Since humans are social beings, partnerships between individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments, and varied combinations thereof, have always been and remain commonplace...

 between two Quakers
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, Arthur Albright, and John Edward Wilson. It became a private limited company, Albright & Wilson Ltd, in 1892; and it remained a double family-owned firm, for nearly 100 years, until 5 March 1948, when it became a public company
Public company
This is not the same as a Government-owned corporation.A public company or publicly traded company is a limited liability company that offers its securities for sale to the general public, typically through a stock exchange, or through market makers operating in over the counter markets...


Albright and Wilson expanded considerably into silicone
Silicones are inert, synthetic compounds with a variety of forms and uses. Typically heat-resistant and rubber-like, they are used in sealants, adhesives, lubricants, medical applications , cookware, and insulation....

s, detergent
A detergent is a surfactant or a mixture of surfactants with "cleaning properties in dilute solutions." In common usage, "detergent" refers to alkylbenzenesulfonates, a family of compounds that are similar to soap but are less affected by hard water...

s, food additives, metal finishing chemicals, strontium
Strontium is a chemical element with the symbol Sr and the atomic number 38. An alkaline earth metal, strontium is a soft silver-white or yellowish metallic element that is highly reactive chemically. The metal turns yellow when exposed to air. It occurs naturally in the minerals celestine and...

 based chemicals and chromium
Chromium is a chemical element which has the symbol Cr and atomic number 24. It is the first element in Group 6. It is a steely-gray, lustrous, hard metal that takes a high polish and has a high melting point. It is also odorless, tasteless, and malleable...

 based chemicals. It was the second largest chemical
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 manufacturer in the United Kingdom; although it was always very much smaller than ICI
Imperial Chemical Industries
Imperial Chemical Industries was a British chemical company, taken over by AkzoNobel, a Dutch conglomerate, one of the largest chemical producers in the world. In its heyday, ICI was the largest manufacturing company in the British Empire, and commonly regarded as a "bellwether of the British...


In 1971 Tenneco
Tenneco is a $6.2 billion Fortune 500 company that has been publicly traded on the NYSE since November 5, 1999 under the symbol TEN...

 bought a part of Albright and Wilson's share holdings; and in 1978 obtained full ownership. In the short term, the company retained its own identity; however many of its subsidiaries were sold off. In 1995, Tenneco divested many of its assets; and parts of the original core of Albright and Wilson were transferred into a new public company, Albright and Wilson Plc
Public limited company
A public limited company is a limited liability company that sells shares to the public in United Kingdom company law, in the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth jurisdictions....

 which was floated on the stock market, in February of that year. However, just four years later, following disappointing results, the French chemical company Rhodia
Rhodia (company)
Rhodia is a group specialized in fine chemistry, synthetic fibers and polymers. Rhodia is listed on the Paris Stock Exchange on NYSE Euronext. The company services the consumer goods, automotive, energy, manufacturing and processes and electronics markets...

 acquired Albright and Wilson in March 2000 and the century-and-a-half old name finally disappeared except in India, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

Parts of the original Albright and Wilson company are now owned by the Huntsman Corporation.

After a large fire at its Avonmouth plant in 1996, which caused the temporary closure of local motorways and rail services, Albright and Wilson were fined £60,000.

The move to Oldbury

In 1842 Arthur Albright, a trained chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

, became a Partner in the Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 chemical firm of John and Edmund Sturge; his sister had married Edmund Sturge who was also a Quaker. The Sturges were already manufacturing potassium chlorate for the match industry, at their chemical works at Selly Oak
Selly Oak
Selly Oak is a residential suburban district in south-west Birmingham, England. The suburb is bordered by Bournbrook and Selly Park to the north-east, Edgbaston and Harborne to the north, Weoley Castle and Weoley Hill to the west, and Bournville to the south...

, adjacent to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal
Worcester and Birmingham Canal
The Worcester and Birmingham Canal is a canal linking Birmingham and Worcester in England. It starts in Worcester, as an 'offshoot' of the River Severn and ends in Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. It is long....

. Albright therefore added the production of white phosphorus in 1844.

In 1850 the production of potassium chlorate and white phosphorus was moved to Langley Green, Oldbury, West Midlands
Oldbury, West Midlands
Oldbury is a town in the West Midlands in England. It is a part of the Black Country and the administrative centre of the borough of Sandwell.-Local government:...

; and production of white phosphorus restarted in 1851.

The new site was located next door to the firm of Chance and Hunt in order to obtain access to a supply of sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 and hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water, that is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with many industrial uses. It is found naturally in gastric acid....

; and of coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 from the Black Country
Black Country
The Black Country is a loosely defined area of the English West Midlands conurbation, to the north and west of Birmingham, and to the south and east of Wolverhampton. During the industrial revolution in the 19th century this area had become one of the most intensely industrialised in the nation...

 coal fields. It was also adjacent to two different arms of the Birmingham Canal Navigations
Birmingham Canal Navigations
Birmingham Canal Navigations is a network of navigable canals connecting Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the eastern part of the Black Country...

, (the BCN), one leading off the Titford Canal
Titford Canal
The Titford Canal is a narrow canal, a short branch of the Birmingham Canal Navigations in Oldbury, West Midlands, England....

, so it had good transport links.

Production of the red form of phosphorus, "amorphous phosphorus" was commenced by Arthur Albright in 1851, by heating white phosphorus in a sealed crucible under a vacuum. In had been discovered by Professor Schrötter, in Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 and patented
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 by him. However, it was explosive to make and Albright discovered a safe means of production.

On 31 December 1854 Albright terminated his partnership with the Sturges; and John Edward Wilson, a merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

, joined him. In 1856 John Edward Wilson became a partner, and the new partnership was known as Albright and Wilson. In 1857 John Wilson married the sister of Rachel Albright (Albright's wife).

The Sturge Brothers continued as manufacturing chemists at Birmingham, but moved their works to Stirchley
Stirchley, West Midlands
Stirchley is a southern area of Birmingham, England. Close to the districts of Kings Heath, Bournville, Selly Park, Cotteridge and King's Norton...

; and no longer had any involvement with phosphorus.

Oldbury remained the Headquarters of Albright and Wilson for most of the company's existence, eventually becoming known as the Oldbury Division. The Oldbury site was also the location of its central Research Laboratories.

The business was so highly regarded in Oldbury that a new secondary school opened in the town in the 1930s was named Albright Secondary Modern School.

The firm also maintained a leased London office, at Knightsbridge Green
Knightsbridge is a road which gives its name to an exclusive district lying to the west of central London. The road runs along the south side of Hyde Park, west from Hyde Park Corner, spanning the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea...

. In October 1974 it moved its Industrial Chemicals Divisional Offices, from Oldbury, to Warley
County Borough of Warley
Warley was a county borough and civil parish forming part of the West Midlands conurbation, England, and geographical county of Worcestershire. It was formed in 1966 by the combination of the existing county borough of Smethwick with the municipal boroughs of Oldbury and Rowley Regis Warley was a...

. The six-storey office block, A&W House, at 210–222 Hagley Road, was originally rented for 25 years. Fifteen years later, parts of the Head Office were moved from Knightsbridge Green to A&W House. In October 1991 the Head Office moved to A&W House; and in 1997 the feehold of the building was purchased. A&W House was sold in 2001; and is now known as Quadrant West.

Phosphorus and match phosphates

In the early days, white phosphorus was obtained from bone
Bones are rigid organs that constitute part of the endoskeleton of vertebrates. They support, and protect the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells and store minerals. Bone tissue is a type of dense connective tissue...

 ash by treating them with hydrochloric acid to produce precipitated phosphates. Then heating the meta phosphate for several days in a sealed crucible
A crucible is a container used for metal, glass, and pigment production as well as a number of modern laboratory processes, which can withstand temperatures high enough to melt or otherwise alter its contents...

, in a retort
In a chemistry laboratory, a retort is a glassware device used for distillation or dry distillation of substances. It consists of a spherical vessel with a long downward-pointing neck. The liquid to be distilled is placed in the vessel and heated...

, and distilling
Distillation is a method of separating mixtures based on differences in volatilities of components in a boiling liquid mixture. Distillation is a unit operation, or a physical separation process, and not a chemical reaction....

 off phosphorus vapour, under water. Huge quantities of coal were needed for heating these retorts.

The production of white phosphorus was improved by using phosphate
A phosphate, an inorganic chemical, is a salt of phosphoric acid. In organic chemistry, a phosphate, or organophosphate, is an ester of phosphoric acid. Organic phosphates are important in biochemistry and biogeochemistry or ecology. Inorganic phosphates are mined to obtain phosphorus for use in...

 rock and sulfuric acid instead of bone ash and hydrochloric acid; and by the use of reverberatory furnace
Reverberatory furnace
A reverberatory furnace is a metallurgical or process furnace that isolates the material being processed from contact with the fuel, but not from contact with combustion gases...

s instead of the direct-heated furnaces.

White and amorphous phosphorus remained the main product of Albright and Wilson until World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...


White phosphorus was poisonous to match makers, causing Phossy jaw
Phossy jaw
Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is an occupational disease of those who work with white phosphorus, also known as yellow phosphorus, without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century...

. Albright and Wilson exhibited amorphous phosphorus at the Great Exhibition of 1851, at The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

. A sample was taken away for testing by the two Swedish brothers Lundstrom, to make an experimental match composition. In 1855, just before the Paris Exhibition
Exposition Universelle (1855)
The Exposition Universelle of 1855 was an International Exhibition held on the Champs-Elysées in Paris from May 15 to November 15, 1855. Its full official title was the Exposition Universelle des produits de l'Agriculture, de l'Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris 1855.The exposition was a major...

, John Edvard Lundstrom
John Edvard Lundström
Johan Edvard Lundström was a Swedish industrialist and inventor who pioneered the production of safety matches. Johan is spelt John outside Scandinavia.- Biography :...

 found that the matches were still usable. He placed a large order for amorphous phosphorus with Albright and Wilson and this led to the foundation of the Swedish Safety Match Industry.

In 1899 Albright and Wilson added phosphorus sesquisulfide
Phosphorus sesquisulfide
Phosphorus sesquisulfide is the inorganic compound with the formula 43. This yellow solid is one of two commercially produced phosphorus sulfides. It is a component of "strike anywhere" matches....

 production. They were the first company to produce phosphorus sesquisulfide commercially: it was fiery and dangerous to make. Two French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 chemists, Savene and Cahen, proved that year that it was non-poisonous and could be used to make safety matches. Savene and Cahen Patented
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 the match formula.

In 1929 the British Match Corporation, formerly known as Bryant and May
Bryant and May
For the Bryant and May series of crime mystery books, see the author Christopher Fowler.Bryant and May was a United Kingdom company created in the mid-nineteenth century specifically to make matches. Their original Bryant and May Factory was located in Bow, London...

, set up a jointly-owned company with Albright and Wilson: The A & W Match Phosphorus Company. It took over ownership of a small part of the Oldbury site concerned with producing amorphous phosphorus and phosphorus sesquisulfide.


Albright and Wilson expanded both by opening new sites and by buying up its rivals. The original phosphorus-based part of the company became known as the Oldbury Division. As they moved into new areas, they set up new Divisions.

Just after the end of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Albright and Wilson took over the Holmes' Marine Life Protection Association
Holmes' Marine Life Protection Association
The Holmes' Marine Life Protection Association was a United Kingdom company set up in the 19th century to produce marine signal lights and foghorns. It was founded by Nathaniel John Holmes, a telegraph engineer from Middlesex; and it passed to his son Joseph R. Holmes...

. It remained within Oldbury Division.

Oldbury Division

In 1888 a patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 was granted to four people from Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands, England. For Eurostat purposes Walsall and Wolverhampton is a NUTS 3 region and is one of five boroughs or unitary districts that comprise the "West Midlands" NUTS 2 region...

 covering the use of an electric
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

 furnace to produce white phosphorus from phosphate rock; and in 1890 they set up a works at Wednesfield
Wednesfield lies at , and is located to the northeast of Wolverhampton city centre on the northern fringe of the West Midlands conurbation...

 to produce phosphorus. Albright and Wilson bought the patent and the works; and ran it for two years whilst they built their own furnace at Oldbury. The Wednesfield works was then closed down.

White phosphorus continued in production at Oldbury
Oldbury, West Midlands
Oldbury is a town in the West Midlands in England. It is a part of the Black Country and the administrative centre of the borough of Sandwell.-Local government:...

 until 1972 when production was moved to Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

. Bulk liquid white phosphorus was then transferred by special bulk tanker ship back to Portishead
Portishead, Somerset
Portishead is a coastal town on the Severn Estuary within the unitary authority of North Somerset, which falls within the ceremonial county of Somerset England. It has a population of 22,000, an increase of over 3,000 since the 2001 census, with a growth rate of 40 per cent, considerably in excess...

, Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

. Unfortunately the move to Newfoundland had been inadequately planned and the Company encountered serious production problems with its new giant electric furnaces – several times larger than the Oldbury machines – and with the availability of skilled local labour. These problems contributed to the Company's poor financial performance and precipitated the take-over by Tenneco
Tenneco is a $6.2 billion Fortune 500 company that has been publicly traded on the NYSE since November 5, 1999 under the symbol TEN...


Marchon Division

In 1955 Albright and Wilson took over the Marchon Chemical Company based in Whitehaven
Whitehaven is a small town and port on the coast of Cumbria, England, which lies equidistant between the county's two largest settlements, Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness, and is served by the Cumbrian Coast Line and the A595 road...

, which produced phosphorus-based detergent
A detergent is a surfactant or a mixture of surfactants with "cleaning properties in dilute solutions." In common usage, "detergent" refers to alkylbenzenesulfonates, a family of compounds that are similar to soap but are less affected by hard water...

s by the "wet" process. The A&W Group now controlled production of phosphorus compounds by both important manufacturing routes. However, the phosphate detergent business, which was the bread-and-butter market for Marchon, ran into terminal decline in the late 1970s as the eutrophication
Eutrophication or more precisely hypertrophication, is the movement of a body of water′s trophic status in the direction of increasing plant biomass, by the addition of artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates, through fertilizers or sewage, to an aquatic system...

of inland waterways by pollution from detergent phosphate residues pressed the detergent formulators to move away from phosphates, thus removing Marchon's prime product application area.

The name "Marchon" ended when the French company, Rhodia, took over Albright and Wilson in 1999.

External links

  • A picture gallery (hosted by showing Marchon, from a working site to final demolition


  • Beaver, Patrick (1985). The Match Makers. London: Henry Melland Limited. ISBN 0-907929-11-7.
  • Morris, Peter J.T. and Russell, Colin A. (1988). Archives of the British Chemical Industry: 1750 – 1914. Stanford: British Society for the History of Science. (BSHS Monograph 6). ISBN 0-906450-06-3.
  • Podger, Hugh (2002). Albright & Wilson; the Last 50 Years. Studley: Brewin Books. ISBN 1-85858-223-7.
  • Threlfall, Richard E. (1952). The Story of 100 Years of Phosphorus Making: 1851 – 1951. Oldbury: Albright & Wilson Ltd.
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