1
$\begingroup$

I debated on whether to put this question in the History or Engineering Stack Exchange. Ultimately, I decided on the Engineering Stack because I believe the people on this site will understand the process and possibly know modern uses more readily than History-oriented people on the History Stack. When I did post it on there, it was suggested that I try on the Chemistry Stack Exchange. Since, it sat over on the Engineering Stack for several days without any help, I removed it from there and am asking on here.

I came across this 1 January 1892 edition of the Rocky Mountain News (RMN) that talks about a new process for producing white lead by the Denver White Lead company (DWL). It says:

(...) The managers claim that with a cheap process at their command they can control the Western market and ship as far East as the Missouri line, invading the borders of that great lead producing city and underselling the lead corroders of St. Louis in Kansas City.

The Morris-Bailey process, which corrodes 96 per cent in three days as against 65 per cent by the Dutch process in four months, will be used. It has been tested by experts, and notwithstanding the quick process of corroding the lead is pronounced by English and American experts superior to any lead in the world.

Despite owning the patent to this supposedly revolutionary process, the business was defunct by October of 1900. I find a 19 October 1900 edition of the RMN with an article claiming that DWL was put out of business by the “a lead trust”. Says the article:

(...) No sooner did the Denver company attempt to place its white lead on the market than the company discovered there was a lead trust. The trust lowered its price until the rate was less then [sic] the cost of crude material to the Denver firm. The Denver crowd held a meeting, and, by the way, George Ross-Lewin, Sam Landon and Dr. Morris, were members of the company, and decided to compromise with the lead trust. Their advances were met with a sneer. As a last resort the company meekly offered to sell out to the trust. They were met with a laugh and up to the present day the Denver organization lies as dead as a mackerel. Every dollar invested in the local plant was lost.

Now, this is entirely possible as DWL was started in 1891 with an initial capital of 50,000k (a single source claims the capitalization was at 150K, but I have chosen to go with the multitude of other sources, some local, which I believe are accurate). Certainly nothing to sneeze at; however, the National Lead Trust (right-hand side of page 8 of the .pdf) was capitalized in 1887 at $90,000,000, absolutely dwarfing DWL’s funding. That’s almost 2,000 times more funding. And, I remember a few years back when Saudi Arabia drastically reduced prices below production costs for several months, driving several smaller competitors into selling out. So, it is certainly possible. That being said, what happened to this supposedly superior process?

First, what exactly is this process? The Morris-Bailey process was patented by Dr. N. K. Morris and John W. Bailey. I find a description of the process in the 1892 Volume 13 of Paint, Oil and Chemical Review:

By the new process the metallic lead does not have to be made up into “buckles.” Plain pig lead is placed in cylinders and melted till a mass four feet deep is produced. At the bottom of the cylinders are dies with minute perforations. Now, the force of four feet of molten lead is equal to that of fifty feet of water, and the hydraulic miner knows what tremendous pressure a column of water fifty feet high can exert. A stream of water from a pipe under such pressure can support in the air a rock weighing a ton, and is equal in exertion to 100 horse power [sic].

Under this pressure the molten lead is forced through the minute perforation in the dies at the bottom of the cylinder and comes out in fibers hardly the one-hundreth [sic] part of an inch in diameter. It falls into a rack fitted with trays very much like a chest of drawers, in fact, but so arranged with flanges that each tray is perfectly air-tight. These trays, or drawers, are also perforated at the bottom, so as to allow gases to penetrate the fibers. Then the tray is dipped in acetic acid, replaced in the rack, closed up air-tight and the carbonic acid gas turned on from the bottom by means of suction from a boiler.

But tanbark is scarce in Colorado, and is not needed by this process anyhow. The carbonic acid gas is manufactured from common petroleum, or residuum oil, and in this way is less expensive than the mere handling of tanbark. When the trays or stacks are all ready, and the carbonic acid gas is turned on, the same chemical change is produced in the metallic lead, and it also comes out as white lead, but in this case it is a mass of beautiful fibers. These are washed, ground up with linseed oil and the product is ready for the market.

The main saving of time by the new process is brought about by the lead being reduced in fibers. In the “buckles” a mass half an inch thick and two or three inches in diameter is presented for the gases to work upon. The fibers present 10,000 times more surface in the same amount of metal, and the gases attack them with the greatest ease. The work which, under the old process, required nearly four months [sic] time to complete, is thus accomplished in two days.

The claim is made for the Denver white lead that it is a purer article than any made with the aid of tanbark, because other gases are produced from tanbark, which contaminate in some degree the metal.

I tried to find this patent by looking up the patent authors. First, I find the first name of Morris mentioned in an 1887 directory of Denver. Then, Norman Kelsey Morris and John Winfield Bailey were both granted a patent on 13 December 1892 for “Method of and apparatus for producing lead carbonate”, lead carbonate being white lead. Further, two days later, a patent was granted to Morris alone for “Method and apparatus for the manufacture of lead fibre”. Sadly, these patents contain no information (or perhaps I am not using Google Patents correctly?).

So, my question is, what happened to this process? Reducing a processing time down from four months to two days would be one of those rare examples when an industry makes a quantum leap forward overnight. It would be surprising if this process, if it is as revolutionary as they claim, disappeared. So, can anyone tell me if this process is still used? Was it ever used outside of the Denver White Lead company? Was it superseded by a new process?

I can’t find where I read it, but somewhere I read that Morris and Bailey had their process for a while but they couldn’t get anyone to invest in their work. Then, they went to London and made a small-scale showing, which interested investors back in Denver, who again had them (Morris and Bailey) repeat the process, only after then was the company capitalized at $50,000. Further, I find the business was definitely open at least until 1898. So, they definitely conducted business. Maybe, being such a small company competing with an absolute titan doomed them. Still, I would imagine someone would have purchased the patent. And, even if not, the patent has been free for a VERY long time, so I imagine someone, somewhere must have put it into production. Or was the new process all hype and its improvements not as dramatic as claimed? I appreciate any insight anyone could provide. Thanks.

Some notes that MAY assist anyone who looks into this, is that DWL was initially Western White Lead company, but they changed their name when they realized a company in Pennsylvania already had that name. Also, a place I always like to start to find biographical information that may help my research, especially with places a person may have lived, (and it can be interesting to see if/how you are related to other people if you have attached your tree to theirs) is FamilySearch.org. Morris’s page can be found HERE and I am unsure if Bailey has one. If he does, the information on it is too little to be able to search for him.

Lastly, lead paint was banned in the late 1970's, so information on white lead in general is hard to come by. Despite this, I have found a recent paper on the small-scale production of white lead. I believe, such small-scale production precludes the use of large amounts of molten lead, like that needed for the Morris-Bailey process to make the fibrous lead. That paper does mention a mid-19th-century Spanish process for producing white lead, but I can't find anything on that. Also, just from reading the Wikipedia page on white lead, I believe the Morris-Bailey process is a special variation on the Dutch process, but I am not sure, I might be misunderstanding.

$\endgroup$
6
  • $\begingroup$ Please visit a good university library and check the Kirk Other's Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, similarly Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry is worth consulting. It will have some history. $\endgroup$
    – ACR
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 4:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The is also History of Science and Mathematics hsm.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 5:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AChem Thanks. The UCCS library has the first. I'll check that out tomorrow. The other one is up in Denver, not worth the trip. I'll see about something through ILL. Thanks for that. Crazy how expensive those sets are. Cost of a cheap car. $\endgroup$ Commented May 15, 2023 at 6:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here are the pdfs of the full US versions: patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/7f/c4/09/fab8e7ee4eb07c/… patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/cd/38/29/5b072efc8fbd9e/… $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 11:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your links were to CA (Canadian) patents. I think I just searched on the same inventor names for US patents. Or maybe I found the US patent numbers first and then used the numbers to find full text. I don't really remember. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 21:41

0

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.