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Albright and Wilson

Albright and Wilson was founded in 1856 as a United Kingdom manufacturer of potassium chlorate and white phosphorus for the match 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 between two Quakers, 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.[1]

Albright and Wilson expanded considerably into silicones, detergents, food additives, metal finishing chemicals, strontium based chemicals and Chromium based chemicals. It was the second largest chemical manufacturer in the United Kingdom; although it was always very much smaller than ICI.

In 1971 Tenneco 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 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 acquired Albright and Wilson in 1999 and the century-and-a-half old name finally disappeared except in India, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

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

After a large fire at its Avonmouth plant, A&W were fined £60,000.


The move to Oldbury

In 1842 Arthur Albright, a trained chemist, became a Partner in the Birmingham 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, adjacent to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.[3] 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; and production of white phosphorus restarted in 1851.[4]

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 and hydrochloric acid; and of coal from the Black Country coal fields. It was also adjacent to two different arms of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, (the BCN), one leading off the Titford Canal, so it had good transport links.[4]

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 and patented 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, 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; 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 firm also maintained a leased London office, at Knightsbridge Green. In October 1974 it moved its Industrial Chemicals Divisional Offices, from Oldbury, to Warley. 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.[5] [1]

Phosphorus and match phosphates

In the early days, white phosphorus was obtained from bone ash by treating them with hydrochloric acid to produce precipitated phosphates. Then heating the meta phosphate for several days in a sealed crucible, in a retort, and distilling 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 rock and sulfuric acid instead of bone ash and hydrochloric acid; and by the use of reverberatory furnaces instead of the direct-heated furnaces.

White and amorphous phosphorus remained the main product of Albright and Wilson until World War I.

White phosphorus was poisonous to match makers, causing Phossy jaw. Albright and Wilson exhibited amorphous phosphorus at the Great Exhibition of 1851, at The Crystal Palace. 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, John Edvard Lundstrom 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 production. They were the first company to produce phosphorus sesquisulfide commercially: it was fiery and dangerous to make. Two French chemists, Savene and Cahen, proved that year that it was non-poisonous and could be used to make safety matches. Savene and Cahen Patented the match formula.

In 1929 the British Match Corporation, formerly known as Bryant and May, 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, Albright and Wilson took over the Holmes' Marine Life Protection Association. It remained within Oldbury Division.

Oldbury Division

In 1888 a patent was granted to four people from Wolverhampton covering the use of an electric furnace to produce white phosphorus from phosphate rock; and in 1890 they set up a works at Wednesfield 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.

Marchon Division

In 1955 Albright and Wilson took over the Marchon Chemical Company based in Whitehaven, which produced phosphorus-based detergents. The name ended when the French company, Rhodia, took over.


  1. ^ Threlfall (1951). Chapter XIV: The Public Company.
  2. ^ Hugh Podger (2002). Albright & Wilson: The Last 50 Years. Studley: Brewin Books. ISBN 1-85858-223-1.
  3. ^ British History Online
  4. ^ a b Threlfall (1951). Chapter IV: The Foundations, 1844-56: John Wilson.
  5. ^ Hugh Podger (2002), Page 218.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • The fire at Avonmouth
  • A picture gallery (hosted by showing Marchon, from a working site to final demolition
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Albright_and_Wilson". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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