The demand for chemists in the Manchester area, 1900-1939, and how it was filled

Swinfin, Stephen Thomas (2009). The demand for chemists in the Manchester area, 1900-1939, and how it was filled. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001006a

Abstract

This thesis covers new ground by investigating the demand for chemists in the Manchester area in the early twentieth century. The study of demand reveals that supply was a more complex process than generally realised. Most importantly, Manchester’s varied supply systems, which provided both graduates and ‘practical chemists’ who combined experience with part-time training, fully met the demand. The study finds that the number of chemists employed in the Manchester area was much higher than previously supposed, even as early as 1902, and suggests that this may have applied to the whole of Britain.

An insufficient supply of scientists, especially chemists, caused by a shortage of scientific and technical education, has been argued as a major cause of the decline of Britain as a manufacturing nation. However, although the historiography of decline emphasises supply failings, contemporary concerns around 1900 were often about inadequate demand. Moreover, contemporaries recognised that sufficient industrial demand for chemists would generate the supply required. Demand estimation, although difficult, has advantages. Demand is affected directly by economic circumstances and therefore reflects the relative success of individual industries or firms. The study demonstrates that economic problems resulted at times in oversupply of chemists, causing diversion into alternative employment or even unemployment.

The study of demand demonstrates the wide range of chemist employment in the Manchester area. It also demonstrates that research chemists were active in Manchester from the late nineteenth century and that by the 1930s almost 30% of all chemists identified there in this study were recorded as research chemists. Actual numbers are provided to confirm the emerging consensus amongst historians that educational deficiencies were not a significant factor in decline.

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