In looking over the large number of patent cases which pass through our office, we are impressed with the meager number of those relating to improvements in chemical processes. There is a wide field here, " white and ready for harvest," but the laborers are few. The earnest workers in the chemical field of discovery are, for the most part, professional men, who, having fixed incomes from the positions which they occupy, and apparatus and leisure for extended research, mostly devote their time in searching for new facts, rather than industrial applications of those already found. Notwithstanding this, many valuable chemical patents are taken out, and in some cases men have suddenly found wealth flowing into their coffers as the result of chemical discoveries which at first seemed of little value. In other cases discoyeries have been made which, patented, would have largely benefited the discoverer, as they have the world at large; yet have been suffered to passjnto general and profitable use, while he, to whose labors such results are due, remains pecuniarily unrewarded. Not only is the field a rich one, but its resources are constantly being augmented. The discovery of the method of manufacturing cheap oxygen, opens the door to improvement in many departments of chemical manufacture. Of course experiment can only show how such improvements can be made, but possible improvements, seem numerous. It appears to us that in the manufacture of acids, the preparation of oils for painting, the purification of oils, the manufacture of vinegar, etc., the use of uncombined and undiluted oxygen, may, in the future, be found to be preferable to its use as mixed with nitrogen in the atmosphere or combined in the salts of which it is a component. Nothing illustrates the possibilities of chemical discovery better than the department of alloys. Here the combinations are absolutely infinite. Take up any work you can find upon the subject, and see how many of these combinations have been examined, and see further how many of those already examined are extensively used in the arts, and then calculate the chances of the successful discovery of other useful combinations. Let a man to-day invent an alloy that could be manufactured at a good profit, and substituted for brass, at three cents less per pound, and his patent for such an invention would be worth more than- the product of any paying gold mine in the known, world during its term. We believe that a man who, first posting himself thoroughly upon the nature and chemistry of alloys, would set himself to a life-work of systematic experiment, recording the results of his experiments in tables, and preserving specimens of all alloys possessing any useful quality, and patenting such as prove applicable to special purposes, could not fail of success and fame. What is true of alloys is also true of other chemiqal compounds and their applications. The patents issued for processes in the manufacture of- substances having india-rubber as their chief constituent, form a class, the value of which has never been exceeded by any other, in proportion to the number of patents granted. No greater amount of preparation is needed to enter upon chemical investigations than any other department of inven- 122 tion embracing the fundamental principles of mechanics. It 1 is true that men can invent mouse-traps who are ignorant of the laws of falling bodies, the nature .of, and mode in which the radiant and undulatory forces act, and other principles of mechanical science. But such men do not invent electric telegraphs, or solar microscopes, or steam engines. To be a thorough mechanic requires study, as well as to be a thorough chemist; and we maintain that chemistry, as a science, is not difficult to ordinary minds. Few departments of science can be pursued more easily without instruction, and certainly no other affords more pleasure in its acquisition. Here, then, is a field so wide that its full extent is scarcely appreciable, even to experts, with boundaries constantly enlarging, inviting all who seek either highest pleasure or profit to enter and work.
This article was originally published with the title "Chemical Invention" in Scientific American 20, 8, 121-122 (February 1869)