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By Fred Aftalion

Goals to supply a global viewpoint on chemistry, integrating the tale of chemical technological know-how with that of the chemical undefined, and emphasizing vital advancements of the twentieth century.

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And then there was the so-called Industrial Revolution, commonly said to have started in England about 1760. The steam engine was its driving force, figuratively and literally. Increased productivity was its hallmark. A changing way of life has been its lasting legacy. But at about the same time, anotherand in many ways, more far-reachingrevolution was taking place, though it is not commonly referred to as such. It is now clear that a Chemical Revolution was beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, was gathering strength in the nineteenth, and was running full force in the twentieth.

But natron was expensive. Potash from wood ash came from areas richly endowed with forests such as Russia, Scandinavia, and North America. But it was not cheap, and the rebellion of the settlers in America hindered supplies. Barilla, imported from Spain and produced from the ashes of plants like saltwort (Salsola, hence the name "sal soda") was a cheaper source of alkalis, but its sodium carbonate content varied, seldom exceeding 15 percent. Rougher kinds of soda with a strong salt content were also obtained through calcination of seaweed (kelp) collected along the coasts of Brittany, Ireland, and later Scotland.

They are stored out of sight in barrels or tanks, circulated through pipes in distillation columns or closed reactors, and passed discreetly into tankers to be processed elsewhere into consumer goods; only in this final form do they appear in our drugstores and on the shelves of our shops. Today, it is only after an accident that has caused gas to leak into the atmosphere or a few kilograms of synthetic substances to spill into a river that public opinion is informed, this time with all the inevitable hue and cry, of the existence of the products of the chemical industry.

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