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John Glover
(2 Feb 1817 - 1 May 1902)

English chemist who devised the Glover Tower, a better method for the industrial production of sulphuric acid.


John Glover - Obituary

Member Of This Society Of Chemical Industry,
And Gold Medallist Of The Society (1896).

From Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry (1902)

[In industry over the centuries, scientists have produced innovations of great value in their era, but when progress passes them by, their names are left behind too, forgotten in the present. An obituary, such as this one for John Glover, can give a hint of who the scientist was, the importance of his invention in his time, and the wider contributions he made in his society. Glover introduced the more efficient Glover Tower to the sulphuric acid manufacturing industry, yet he took out no patent, and the whole industry shared the benefit.]

John Glover, the inventor of the well-known “Glover tower,” was born in February, 1817, in Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was the son of a working man, and at an early age was apprenticed to a plumber. Joining the old Mechanics' Institute, he studied chemistry, and subsequently took a post at the Felling Chemical Works, then Messrs. Lee and Co. (afterwards Messrs. H. L. Pattinson and Co.), and, about 1852, he went to Washington as manager of the large works there. At the Washington Chemical Works, founded by Mr. Pattinson and his partners, Mr. Glover was chiefly occupied in assisting in the development, on a manufacturing scale, of the oxychloride of lead process, patented by Mr. Pattinson. John Glover remained here until 1861, when he left to start the Carville Chemical Works at Wallsend, where he and his partners carried on the manufacture of alkali by the Leblanc process and bleaching powder until about the year 1882, when the works were closed. It was at the Carville Chemical Works that John Glover perfected his tower, for denitrating and concentrating sulphuric acid in one and the same process, thus saving nitre, fuel, and even lead, besides removing the nuisance of acid fumes. He ultimately retired into private life. The story of the Glover tower is well told in the Presidential Address of 1896, where, quoting the words of the late Dr. F. Hurter (this Journal, 1896, 510 and 511), it is stated that “Mr. Glover built his first tower in 1859. I am proud to say that the first Glover tower introduced into Lancashire started on December 29, 1868, under my superintendence, in the works of Messrs. Gaskell, Deacon, and Co. The invention of Mr. Glover has marked an epoch in the development of the manufacture of sulphuric acid. The saving that tower has accomplished, if we compared present-day consumption of nitre with the former practice, must be valued to this country alone as at least 300,000l. per annum.”

Yet John Glover took out no patent for his tower, and whilst contributing “beyond the ordinary to the well-being and prosperity of his fellows,” he himself received no great reward, except the inward light and satisfaction of well-doing, and of benefiting others. Some years ago, at the instigation of various friends, a testimonial, to which many chemical manufacturers and others subscribed, was presented to Mr. Glover in appreciation of the great service he had rendered to applied chemistry. After receiving the medal of this Society, presented to him by Mr. Tyrer, the President in 1896, for conspicuous services to applied science, Mr. Glover made reply in words pathetic in their modesty. The wish expressed by the President that “length of days in happy retirement” should be granted to him has been accomplished, for his life has considerably exceeded the threescore years and ten.” John Glover died on Thursday, May 1, at his residence, Holly Avenue, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and was buried on Saturday, May 3.

In 1871-2 he was President of the Newcastle Chemical Society, afterwards merged in the Society of Chemical Industry, and for a long time he was a member of the committee of the Newcastle Section of our Society. John Glover took a great interest to the last in the Wellesley Training Ship for boys on the Tyne. One of the touching tributes at his funeral was a wreath of flowers from the Superintendent and Matron and the boys of this Institution, sent “in affectionate remembrance of one who devoted so much time and labout to their interest.”

The following appreciation is contributed by an intimate friend:—

In the genial personality of John Glover there has passed away from amongst us one of the founders of the Society of Chemical Industry, and one of its most distinguished members.

Without any of those adventitious aids to advancement which fall to the lot of the tenderly nurtured and the expensively educated, John Glover had that force of character, that noble ambition, that genius which amply compensated for what are usually regarded as deficiencies and drawbacks in youthful experience and education—a spartan bringing up and a brief and inexpensive schooling. He left school at an age when the sons of the wealthy are just beginning what is termed their ‘education.’ But the short period of his school life by no means ended the education of John Glover; he was his own schoolmaster, and never left school.

I knew him when he was a young man, half a century ago. I had the great advantage and happiness of his close friendship, and many as are the men I have known during the eventful time that has passed since then, I have never known a man more devoted to the acquisition of knowledge, or more successful in attaining it, than our late dear colleague, John Glover. His was that liberal education that grows out of a healthy appetite for knowledge, a fine sense of fitness in the choice of means to ends, and a resolute determination to overcome all hindrances.

At the time of my first acquaintance with him, in the early fifties, he was at the Felling Chemical Works—works that are associated with the name of Hugh Lee Pattinson, one of the pioneers of the great alkali manufacture of the Tyneside. John Glover was a protégé of Hugh Lee Pattinson; he was then in the chemical works laboratory, and very eager to master and improve the analytical and manufacturing processes.

He was full of youthful enthusiasms, and these ranged over the widest regions of science, of religion, and of social economy. He read extensively, was a keen controversialist, and loved debate.

When Hugh Lee Pattinson and his partners built works at Washington for the manufacture of magnesia and oxychloride of lead, by the beautiful Pattinson process, John Glover went from Felling to Washington to manage the works there. I recall with ever fresh enjoyment the good old times when a coterie of ardent young men, of which I was one, were wont to meet at Washington on holidays, and spend a vivid moment in the discussion of the oldest and newest things.

These patches of sunshine in a far distant view are grateful in my memory.

When the time was ripe for John Glover to enter the wider field of initiative and invention as an independent chemical manufacturer, he came back to the Tyneside, and designed and built the Carville Chemical Works. Under his management these were carried on very successfully for many years in conjunction with his partners, the Carville Chemical Company.

It was during this period that the world-wide known and used Glover tower was invented.

With that singular liberality which was one of John Glover's characteristics, no attempt was made, by patenting or by secrecy, to monopolise its use, but to all the world was freely given the full benefit of this most valuable improvement in the sulphuric acid manufacture.

It was chiefly in recognition of this contribution to chemical technology that the Society of Chemical Industry awarded to him its first medal.

The later days of John Glover have, I fear, been a little clouded, through the decadence of the alkali manufacture on the Tyne. It must have been a great trouble to him—it is impossible not to think so; but he was of so serene a nature, all the qualities of human goodness were so mixed in him, and his resources of mind were such, that no one could have been less hurt by the blows of unkind fortune than he.

So, though in his later years there was perhaps less outward brightness, the inward light never failed, nor the delightful buoyancy of his spirit.—J. W. S.

The thumbnail image shows cross-sectional diagrams of the Glover Tower. Text from Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry (1902), 21, 595-596. (source)


See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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