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The Aerated Bread Company Ltd was founded in 1862 by Dr. John Dauglish (1824–1866), an "ingenious and earnest sanitarian as well as social reformer".
Dauglish earned his medical degree at Edinburgh. Having been thoroughly unimpressed by the Scottish bread of the day, he began to make his own, and to study the science associated with the process. When he applied his earlier studies in chemistry to the process of bread making, he determined that it would be possible to produce carbonic acid gas in bread without yeast. He established that if one could instead introduce carbon dioxide to the process—by dissolving it into solution in the water—this would eliminate the need for fermentation, dramatically reduce the need for physical contact with the dough on the part of the workers, and consequently introduce a greater level of cleanliness into the bread making process. Dauglish "aimed at the abolition of manual kneading with its associated nastiness and dangers to cleanliness and health". Some years later, an 1878 issue of the scientific journal, Nature, reported:
As to the perfect cleanliness of this mechanical process for making bread there can be no question; it is immeasurably superior to the barbarous and old, but as Dr. Richardson remarked, not “time-honoured system of kneading dough by the hands and feet of the workman.”
Such a system would also lend itself to a high degree of automation. This method thus leavens bread, without yeast, by forcing carbon dioxide into the dough under pressure. A patent for this revolutionary new method of bread making was granted in 1856.
In 1859, Dauglish presented a paper on his new method to the Royal Society of Arts, for which he received a silver medal.
In 1862, the Aerated Bread Company was set up to economically exploit Dauglish's newly patented method that injected carbonic acid gas (i.e., carbon dioxide) into the bread making process, eliminated yeast and other additives, and drastically reduced production time.
1863 Company incorporated. Claimed to be the only hermetically closed system for making bread, avoiding all contact with hand or "other objectionable form of manual labour"
Dauglish made an arrangement by which he brought together, in a closed apparatus, the flour, out of which the dough was to be made, and water supersaturated with the carbonic acid gas. He incorporated the flour with the water and gas under pressure, and when the incorporation was complete, the mixture was drawn off, when it expanded into a spongy mass, and produced a dough perfect in character, and ready for the oven.
By this simple method, he, so to speak, "set the sponge" without any of the cumbrous processes connected with fermentation.
With the Dauglish technique, "all the destructive influence of fermentation is prevented". That is, "there is no chemical decomposition of the flour whatever, and therefore no loss of material, while the rising of the dough is just as effectively carried out" as with traditional dough fermentation. Nutritionally, the bread created under the Dauglish method contains "all the gluten and all the albuminous food of the wheat", each of which is diminished in quantity under traditional fermentation methods.
A further benefit of the process is that, unlike with the traditional fermentation method, additives like alum never have to be added to slow the rate of fermentation, leading Richardson to term Aerated bread "additive-free".
The 1878 issue of Nature reported that 'The stream of pure water charged with carbonic acid gas vesiculates the dough, which has required neither alum, nor blue vitriol, nor lime-water, to check the irregular fermentation, and neutralise the sourness of mouldy or otherwise damaged or inferior flour.'
However, the journal went on to say that aerated bread is not entirely additive free inasmuch as some minor, less objectionable additives are sometimes still introduced to the process:
The adoption of the aerating process does not of itself necessarily exclude all adulterations of the bread: materials to whiten the loaf and to cause the retention of a larger percentage of water may still be used.
The aeration method accrues to the bakery three production economies: material savings, time savings, and labour savings. As an illustration of the first of these economies, Dauglish estimated that, by eliminating the decomposition of the starches and gluten that occur from traditional fermentation (a loss equal to between three and six percent), this had a value in the middle of the 19th century of "£5,000,000 in the total quantity of bread made, annually, in the United Kingdom". The process is a highly automated one, and thus saves time and reduces labour costs. Whereas the traditional dough fermentation method required between eight and ten hours to ready a batch of dough for baking, the Dauglish method has dough ready for the ovens in "less than thirty minutes." Shortly, "after the two sacks of flour (weighing 560 pounds) are placed in the mixer, there are produced, tinned, and placed in the oven, four hundred two-pound loaves." And since the bread dough is ready for the ovens so quickly, the daily hours worked can be reduced, perhaps obviating the need for the night shifts that were so prevalent in the baking industry at the time. A health benefit to labour is that the workers "are relieved from a circumstance most destructive to their health, that of inhaling the flour dust in the process of kneading" since the Dauglish method, and the automation thereof, does not require the kneading of the dough by hand. Finally, the lack of most additives to enhance the fermentation process reduces the cost of factor inputs while also producing a virtually unadulterated product.
The technology so reduced the cost of production, that it meant that A.B.C. could sell its product for less than its competitors, the traditional fermentation method bakers. The downward impact on prices of A.B.C. moving into a market could be felt almost immediately. For example, in Australia in 1866, A.B.C. had "not only benefited the public by selling its own bread at a cheaper rate than the bakers were selling, but it has led them [the bakers] to reduce their prices. Bakers who a fortnight ago were charging 6d. for the two-pound loaf, are now advertising it at 5d. or 5½d." This represented a drop in price of between 8⅓ percent and 16⅔ percent.
Competition from A.B.C. had more than just a price effect on the traditional fermentation bakers, who responded, in some instances, with unusual advertising efforts to retain market share. The traditional fermentation process produces alcohol within the dough. To counter the success of aerated bread in the market, traditional fermentation bakers began focussing on this in their advertising. To that end, placard advertisements were used — especially in the neighbourhood of the A.B.C. factory — urging people to "buy the bread with the gin in it", at a time when gin was thought to have medicinal properties as it was made from juniper berries. The traditional fermentation bakers neglected to inform the readers of these placard adverts that virtually all of the alcohol dissipates in the extreme heat of the ovens. The journal, Nature, reports that traditional baking techniques of the time left only trace amounts of alcohol in the finished product, equal to an extremely small 0.25% per loaf. The author suggests that Dr. Richardson's great support of aerated bread at the expense of traditionally baked bread was "because it gave him an opportunity of having a fling at his old enemy, alcohol". In fact, Nature points out that the amount of alcohol per traditional, yeast loaf is so small that "a man who eats twenty quartern [i.e., four-pound] loaves has therein consumed an amount of alcohol which is commonly contained in one bottle of port!"
A.B.C.'s first bakery was in Islington, London. In the late Victorian-era, the Dauglish method was considered the superior system by which to mass produce bread. In his memoir of the method, the eminent 19th-century physician and sanitarian, Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, a later director of the company, wrote:
'I am convinced, from careful and prolonged observation, that the Dauglish method of bread manufacture is on the whole the best that has been discovered … [I]t is the cleanliest of all the processes known and followed; it calls for less drudgery, and, it is not unjust to say, less objectionable labour, from the employed in bread manufacture; it inflicts less arduous toil, and so lessens the rapid wearing out of the body, which is an unfortunate fate of many of those who are engaged in the manufacture of the staff of life; it supplies a purer article to those who depend, largely, upon the staff of life for their daily aliment. Lastly, it supplies … a better article, one which gives to the public the fullest food value that can be got out of the corn [i.e., wheat] from which the food is made, and which enables the manufacture of all kinds of flour or meal, white meal, mixed meal, whole meal, to be most completely and most easily produced.'
Thirty years after Dauglish's death, his company was thriving. As a result of its market success derived from its revolutionary technology, A.B.C.'s shares were trading at 12 times their initial public offering price and, at its 1895 annual general meeting, it was stated by the presiding officer, Major John Bolton, that A.B.C. "had no reason to fear competition".
The Dauglish method survived its creator, and Dauglish's company survived him by well over a century, but his method has since been rendered obsolete in the U.K. by the adoption of mechanical, high-speed dough processes such as the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), now responsible for 80 percent of U.K. bread production. Such newer "no time" methods permit the use of lower grade flours, resulting in a product of less nutritional value than breads made by earlier methods such as Dauglish's system.
A.B.C. was also revolutionary for its chain of self-service A.B.C. tea shops, the fast-food outlets of their day. A.B.C. opened the U.K.'s first tearoom in 1864, two years after the company's founding, in the courtyard of London's Fenchurch Street Railway Station. The idea for opening the tearoom is attributed to a London-based manageress of the Aerated Bread Company "who'd been serving gratis tea and snacks to customers of all classes, and got permission to put a commercial public tearoom on the premises." The motivation for the company acting upon the manageress's suggestion was "the fact that the sale of bread alone was not proving a dividend-earning proposition."
The tearooms were significant since they provided one of the first public places where women in the Victorian era could eat a meal, by herself or with women friends, without a male escort. While by 1880 unescorted women could visit higher-end restaurants, they had to avoid the bar. In at least one instance, one could find a women's social club housed directly above an A.B.C. tea shop.
At its peak in 1923, A.B.C. had 150 branch shops in London and 250 tea shops and was second in terms of outlets only to J. Lyons and Co.
1951 Australian operations were liquidated
1955 saw the end of the Aerated Bread Company as an independent operation. British operations were forever changed when the company was purchased by Allied Bakeries (now part of Associated British Foods) in 1955 by the "Barnum of Bread", Canadian-born Garfield Weston. With this acquisition, the self-service A.B.C. tea shops would join the high-end, morning-coated service of Fortnum & Mason, already in Weston's corporate empire.