Immigrants Made Good – Ludwig Mond

Ludwig Mond was inarguably one of the most successful and influential industrial chemists of his day. He not only made great strides in scientific research, but he became very successful in business as well, thanks to his unique business sense and enormous energy. He was well known as one of the founders of the alkali firm of Messrs. Brunner, Mond & Company and was an avid inventor, widely known for his philanthropic activities with many scientific institutions.

Mond was born on March 7, 1839 into a Jewish family in Cassel, Germany. His father was a fairly successful merchant, and was determined to provide young Ludwig with the best possible education. After completing his early studies in his home town, Ludwig was enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of Cassel and went on to attend classes at the Universities of Marburg and Heidelberg.

Ludwig Mond, by Solomon Joseph Solomon (died 1...
Ludwig Mond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His professors held him in high esteem, and though he never earned a degree, they provided him with glowing recommendations. Thanks to recommendations from such distinguished educators as Hermann Kolbe and Robert Bunsen, Ludwig was able to find employment at two German chemical companies.

When he decided to move to England in 1862, he put his education to good use once more, and was soon employed by John Hutchinson and Co. in Widnes. He returned to Germany for a short time, where he married his cousin Frida Lowenthal, but in 1866 he returned to Widnes and took up work with John Hutchinson once more.

Hutchinson’s company manufactured soda using the Leblanc process, but this process left a lot of black ash. Ludwig came up with a method for redeeming that black ash – which contained considerable amounts of sulfur – and he formed a partnership with John Hutchinson to recover and repurpose the sulfur through his patented process.

In 1872, Mond heard of work done by Ernest Solvay, a Belgian industrialist who was developing a more efficient soda manufacturing process. He formed a partnership with John Brunner and they began working on bringing Solvay’s ammonia-soda process to commercial viability. Together they set up as Brunner Mond and Company in a factory at Winnington, Northwich. Building on Solvay’s work, Mond quickly worked out the kinks that had hindered mass production, and within 20 years, Brunner Mond & Company had become the largest soda manufacturer in the world.

English: Entrance to Mond House, offices of Br...
English: Entrance to Mond House, offices of Brunner Mond The entrance to Mond House is now flanked by statues of Sir John Brunner, 1842-1919 (left), and Ludwig Mond, 1839-1909 (right), the founders of Brunner-Mond. The terracotta detailing around the entrance and clock is by Jabez Thompson and dates the building to 1899. Brunner Mond became part of ICI and is now owned by the Tata Group. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commercial success hardly slowed Mond, however. An incurable tinkerer, he continued researching new chemical processes, looking for more efficient ways to produce valuable commodities. One of his greatest accomplishments was the discovery of nickel carbonyl, a compound that was previously unknown. Through the Mond process, he was able to easily decompose this compound to produce pure nickel. Ludwig founded the Mond Nickel Company near Swansea in Wales and began importing huge amounts of ores from mines in Canada.

He had an enormous passion for the sciences, and was a generous benefactor of many scientific societies, including the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Royal Society, and the Italian Accademia de Lincei. He worked with Henry Roscoe to expand the Lancashire Chemical Society into a national Society of Chemical Industry. He became a member of the Royal Society in 1891, and was granted membership in the German Chemical Society, the Prussian Akademie der Wissenschaften, and the Societa Reale  of Naples. Though he never earned a degree, he was granted honorary doctorates from the universities of Oxford, Manchester, Padua, and Heidelberg.

Ludwig Mond passed away on December 11, 1909, at ‘The Poplars’ – his London home near Regent’s Park.


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