John Roebuck
This article is about the English inventor. For the 19th century British politician, see John Arthur Roebuck
John Arthur Roebuck
John Arthur Roebuck , British politician, was born at Madras, in India.After the death of his father, a civil servant, his mother's second marriage transferred him to Canada, where he was chiefly brought-up. He came to England in 1824, was called to the bar John Arthur Roebuck (28 December 1802...


John Roebuck FRS (1718 – 17 July 1794) was an English inventor who played an important role in the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 and who is known for developing the industrial-scale manufacture 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...


Life and work

John Roebuck was born at Sheffield
Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. Its name derives from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. Historically a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and with some of its southern suburbs annexed from Derbyshire, the city has grown from its largely...

, where his father had a prosperous manufacturing business. After attending Sheffield Grammar School
Sheffield Grammar School
Sheffield Grammar School began in 1604 as 'The Free Grammar School of James King of England within the Town of Sheffield in the County of York' in buildings in the Townhead area of Sheffield, resulting from the benefaction of John Smith of Crowland...

 and Dr. Philip Doddridge
Philip Doddridge
Philip Doddridge DD was an English Nonconformist leader, educator, and hymnwriter.-Early life:...

's academy at Northampton
Northampton is a large market town and local government district in the East Midlands region of England. Situated about north-west of London and around south-east of Birmingham, Northampton lies on the River Nene and is the county town of Northamptonshire. The demonym of Northampton is...

, Roebuck studied medicine at Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, where he developed a taste for chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 from the lectures of William Cullen
William Cullen
William Cullen FRS FRSE FRCPE FPSG was a Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist, and one of the most important professors at the Edinburgh Medical School, during its heyday as the leading center of medical education in the English-speaking world.Cullen was also a central figure in the...

 and Joseph Black
Joseph Black
Joseph Black FRSE FRCPE FPSG was a Scottish physician and chemist, known for his discoveries of latent heat, specific heat, and carbon dioxide. He was professor of Medicine at University of Glasgow . James Watt, who was appointed as philosophical instrument maker at the same university...

. He finally graduated M.D. at the University of Leiden in 1742. Roebuck started medical practice at 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...

, but devoted much of his time to chemistry, especially its practical applications. Among the most important of his early achievements in this field was the introduction, in 1746, of leaden condensing chambers for the manufacture of sulfuric acid. Together with Samuel Garbett, in 1749 he built a factory at Prestonpans
Prestonpans is a small town to the east of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the unitary council area of East Lothian. It has a population of 7,153 . It is the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, and has a history dating back to the 11th century...

, in Scotland, for the production of the acid
An acid is a substance which reacts with a base. Commonly, acids can be identified as tasting sour, reacting with metals such as calcium, and bases like sodium carbonate. Aqueous acids have a pH of less than 7, where an acid of lower pH is typically stronger, and turn blue litmus paper red...

, and for some years they enjoyed a monopoly. Having omitted to take out 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....

s, Roebuck's was unable to prevent others from making use of his methods as they eventually became known.

Roebuck next became involved in the manufacture of iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

, and in 1760 established the Carron Company
Carron Company
The Carron Company was an ironworks established in 1759 on the banks of the River Carron near Falkirk, in Stirlingshire, Scotland. After initial problems, the company was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. The company prospered through its development and...

 ironworks at Carron, Stirlingshire
Stirlingshire or the County of Stirling is a registration county of Scotland, based around Stirling, the former county town. It borders Perthshire to the north, Clackmannanshire and West Lothian to the east, Lanarkshire to the south, and Dunbartonshire to the south-west.Until 1975 it was a county...

. There he introduced various improvements in methods of production, including the conversion (patented in 1762) of cast iron into malleable iron "by the action of a hollow pit-coal fire" urged by a powerful artificial blast.

Roebuck's next enterprise was less successful. He leased a colliery at Bo'ness to supply coal to the Carron works, but in sinking for new seams he encountered such quantities of water that the Newcomen engine used was unable to keep the pit clear. Hearing of James Watt
James Watt
James Watt, FRS, FRSE was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.While working as an instrument maker at the...

's engine, Roebuck contacted its inventor. This engine, then at an early stage of its development, also proved inadequate, but Roebuck became a strong believer in its future and in return for a two-thirds share in the invention he assisted Watt in perfecting its details. Roebuck's troubles at the colliery, aggravated by the failure of an attempt to manufacture alkali
In chemistry, an alkali is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal element. Some authors also define an alkali as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7. The adjective alkaline is commonly used in English as a synonym for base,...

, brought him into financial difficulties, and he gave his share in Watt's engine to Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton, FRS was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the...

 in return for the cancellation of a debt of £1200. Subsequently, though Roebuck had to give up his interest in the Bo'ness works, he continued to manage them and to reside at the neighbouring Kinneil House
Kinneil House
Kinneil House is a historic house to the west of Bo'ness in east-central Scotland. It was once the principal seat of the Hamilton family in the east of Scotland. The house was saved from demolition in 1936 when 16th-century mural paintings were discovered, and it is now in the care of Historic...

, where he occupied himself with farming on a considerable scale.

Roebuck died in 1794 and was buried at Carriden Churchyard in Bo'ness.

Further reading

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.