Dr Harry Baker
Catalyst Science Discovery Centre
Dr Harry Baker was a truly gifted chemist and he was instrumental from 1897 onwards in developing the mercury rocking cell method for the creation of chlorine by the electrolysis of brine, pumped from mid-Cheshire, at Castner-Kellner Works at Weston Point near Runcorn in Cheshire. Chlorine has saved millions of lives worldwide in key areas of disinfection and still does.
Using his expertise and knowledge, he continually made major developments to this process and in 1902 he invented a new form of mercury rocking cell which dramatically increased production of both caustic soda and chlorine. Castner-Kellner Works became the largest chlorine producing factory in the world.
Over 120 years on, a modification of his method is still used today at Castner-Kellner works, in the production of chlorine. It is used for water treatment, production of PVC, manufacture of medicines, solar panels, bullet-proof vests and even computer chips. A world without chlorine products would be a challenging world for all of us.
The Jubilee book of the Castner-Kellner Company where Dr Harry Baker worked said: “Baker was a great pioneer and an inspiration to all who knew and worked for him.”
Harry Baker came from a non-scientific family but encouraged his sons to pursue science too by having an engineering workshop and a practical laboratory in outhouses at home.
Some important dates in history for Harry Baker
Did you know?
- Chlorine is used in the production of wind turbine blades
- Chlorine salts are used in fireworks
- In World War 1 and World War 2 chlorine was a war gas used in the trenches
- In World War 2 there were gas masks for babies or children up to 2 years old to stop them being poisoned by chlorine gas
- Chlorine is used in the production of many medicines and drugs
- Chlorine is used in the production of fibre optics and neoprene for gloves and swimsuits
- You smell chlorine when you are in a swimming pool where it is used as a disinfectant.
- Harry’s son, Wilson Baker, was the first person to give a lecture about penicillin after World War 2. He had worked with Florey and Fleming at Oxford on the development of synthetic penicillin in the 1940s.
- Wilson Baker was a founding member of the Oxford Committee on Famine Relief which later became Oxfam and he opened the first Oxfam shop in Oxford. He died in 2002 aged 102.
- Wright Baker, Harry’s older son, was chosen to open the copper scrolls from Qumran in Jordan, known as the Dead Sea scrolls. They allowed people to find out about the ancient languages of that part of the world.
- The Bunsen burner used in school labs is called after Professor Robert Bunsen who Harry did research with in Heidelberg