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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/17837

Title: Progressive Enlightenment: The Origins of the Gaslight Industry 1780–1820
Authors: Tomory, Leslie
Advisor: Langins, Janis
Department: History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Keywords: gaslight
Industrial Revolution
Boulton and Watt
William Murdock
Philippe Lebon
Frederick Winsor
Gas Light and Coke Company
technological networks
pneumatic chemistry
Issue Date: 28-Sep-2009
Abstract: Gaslight, an Industrial Revolution technology, developed in the period 1780–1820. The foundations for the technology are partly found in the pneumatic chemistry of the eighteenth century, both in terms of the knowledge of gases and their properties, and the instruments used to manipulate them, such as the gasometer, making gaslight one of the earliest instances of a technology heavily based on science. Although many people experimented with lighting with gases in the late eighteenth century, the move to a commercial technology began with Philippe Lebon and William Murdock who had a clear commercial purpose in mind. The technology in its early phases was found everywhere in Europe, but it was at Boulton & Watt in Birmingham that it was first successfully applied. As Boulton & Watt developed the technology they identified many and solved some of the problems associated with scaling up the technology. They were not, however, very interested in gaslight and only sporadically gave attention to it, before effectively abandoning it around 1812. They nevertheless had an important role to play in its development not only because if their technical work, but also because they demonstrated the technology’s viability to the broad public, and by giving people experience in gas engineering. The technology's final form as a network utility was partly as a result of a battle fought between Boulton & Watt and Frederick Winsor's Gas Light and Coke Company in London during 1807–1810. Boutlon & Watt did not want a large limited-liability corporation as a competitor, and the contest in Parliament between the two groups resulted in a negotiated compromise where the Gas Light and Coke Company gave up all rights to manufacture apparatus, and focused exclusively on gas provision, effectively making it a utility. The years from 1812–1820 saw the technology mature into a large network which included not only technical development, such as the pressure balancing with valves and regulators, but also political and social elements, such as the control of user expectations through education and usage enforcement through inspectors. By 1820, the technology was sufficiently developed to be transferred to the Continent.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/17837
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Institute for the History & Philosphy of Science & Technology - Doctoral theses

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