John Mercer (scientist)

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John Mercer (scientist)

John Mercer (21 February 1791 – 30 November 1866) was an English dye and fabric chemist and fabric printer born in Great Harwood, Lancashire. In 1844 he developed a process for treating cotton, mercerisation, that improves many of its qualities for use in fabrics.


John Mercer never went to school, he learned basic reading and writing from his neighbour. He was very fond of dyeing. With the help of a chemistry textbook he taught himself the basics of the dyeing process. He continued to experiment, until he discovered Antimony orange. Later on he developed the mercerisation process and was admitted to the Royal Society, the Philosophical Society and the Chemical Society.[1]

In 1814 he married Mary Wolstenholme; together they had six children. His wife died in 1859 and he afterwards became a juror to the second Great Exhibition in 1862, and a justice of the peace in Lancashire, continuing to give lectures at Clayton-le-Moors and supporting local Anglican and Methodist churches.[1]

The 1861 census records him as a 70-year-old "Chymist", living with his son John and 12 others at 29 Burlington Hotel. (Florence Nightingale was next door, at No. 30). Mercer died at home in 1866 and was buried in St Bartholemew's church. Funds for his commemoration were provided by his daughter Maria and a clock tower was unveiled in Great Harwood in 1903, as well as the Mercer Hall. Mercer's cottage at Oakenshaw was donated to be a museum and park.[2]


  1. ^ a b Brock, W. H.; Hartog, P. J. (2004). "Mercer, John (1791–1866)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18573.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • E. A. Parnell, The life and labours of John Mercer (1886)
  • R. S. Crossley, Accrington: captains of industry (1930)
  • A. Nieto-Galan, ‘Calico printing and chemical knowledge in Lancashire in the early 19th century: the life and "colours" of John Mercer’, Annals of Science, 54 (1997), 1–28
  • A. W. Baldwin, ‘Mercer and mercerization’, Endeavour, 3 (1944), 138–43

External links[edit]