26th February 1855. Aromatic Hydrocarbons.

Today in 1855 Charles Blachford Mansfield died in the name of science when he was badly burned in an experiment which caused a Naptha ‘still’ to catch fire.(1)

Mansfield now largely unknown, laid the foundations of coal-tar chemistry resulting from Bituminous Coal and the expanding gas industry.(2)


The soap was forced to remove Coal Tar derivatives, to be replaced by Tea Tree Oil.


Mothballs originally came from Napthalene but less dangerous compounds have been substituted.







It was at the request of chemist, A.W.Hofmann that Mansfield experimented with large-scale fractional distillation of impure Benzene into the compound Nitrobenzene by using Nitric Acid.

From his discoveries the foundations were laid for the Aniline (Phenylamine) Industry. (3)

Mansfield was to demonstrate before The Royal Institution the use of Benzene as solvent later used in dry cleaning. He also isolated Toluol (Toluolene) by distillation of the liquid coal-tar hydrocarbon, Naptha (Napthalene).

In January 1849 Mansfield went into business assisting Read Holliday and Co., a large tar distiller in Huddersfield, to distill hydrocarbons.

Hofmann, Superintendent of the Royal College of Chemistry, was to eager to use Nitrobenzene and its related product Aniline for his research into aromatic bases which lead to production of aromatic hydrocarbons, without which our world today would be the poorer and less colourful.

For these nitro and amino compounds are essential for dyes, analgesics, pharmaceuticals, paints, polymers and explosives also synthetic perfumes and the highly toxic solvent, Xylene, to name a few.


Aniline showing Phenyl Group and Amino Group.

Aniline has a Phenyl Group thus is aromatic and the presence of the Amino Group makes Aniline is an aromatic Amine.

Those nostalgic scents we remember from childhood-creosote, road tar, wax crayons, mothballs, thus stem from sweet smelling derivatives from coal tar, but now composed in many cases from less toxic compounds.

(1) Born 8.5.1819. He filed a patent on 11.11.1847 for Toluol and Benzole.

He was preparing Benzole for the Paris Exhibition of 1855 when the accident happened.

(2a) The family of hydrocarbons consist of various aromatic carbon-ringed compounds and their derivatives.

(2b) The many fractions of coal tar include: Benzene, Toluene, Xylene, Naphthalene, Anthracene and Phenanthrene. The Pitch left over is used for roads and waterproofing.

(3) Hofmann had been invited to be the first Superintendent of the Royal College by Prince Albert, and one of the first to appreciate the importance of coal tar, a by-product of the expanding gas industry, which included Benzene.

Ref: Wikipedia.org. charles_mansfield.

Ref: encyclopedia.com/science.

Ref: aromatic hydrocarbons anthracene mothballs etc.

Ref: study.com/academy/Diagram.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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