Messel, Rudolf

SUBJECT AREA: Chemical technology
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b. 14 January 1848 Darmstadt, Germany
d. 18 April 1920 London, England
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German industrial chemist.
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Messel served three years as an apprentice to the chemical manufacturers E.Lucius of Frankfurt before studying chemistry at Zürich, Heidelberg and Tübingen. In 1870 he travelled to England to assist the distinguished chemist Sir Henry Roscoe, but was soon recalled to Germany on the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. After hostilities ceased, Messel returned to London to join the firm of manufacturers of sulphuric acid Dunn, Squire \& Company of Stratford, London. The firm amalgamated with Spencer Chapman, and after Messel became its Managing Director in 1878 it was known as Spencer, Chapman \& Messel Ltd.
Messel's principal contribution to chemical technology was the invention of the contact process for the manufacture of sulphuric acid. Earlier processes for making this essential product, now needed in ever-increasing quantities by the new processes for making dyestuffs, fertilizers and explosives, were based on the oxidation of sulphur dioxide by oxides of nitrogen, developed by Joshua Ward and John Roebuck. Attempts to oxidize the dioxide to the trioxide with the oxygen in the air in the presence of a suitable catalyst had so far failed because the catalyst had become "poisoned" and ineffective; Messel avoided this by using highly purified gases. The contact process produced a concentrated form of sulphuric acid called oleum. Until the outbreak of the First World War, Messel's firm was the principal manufacturer, but then the demand rose sharply, so that other firms had to engage in its manufacture. Production thereby increased from 20,000 to 450,000 tons per year.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1912. President, Society of Chemical Industry 1911–12, 1914.
Further Reading
1931, Special jubilee issue, Journal of the Society of the Chemical Industry (July). G.T.Morgan and D.D.Pratt, 1938, The British Chemical Industry, London.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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