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British Industrial History

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Alfred Bird (1811-1878)

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Alfred Bird, chemist and food manufacturer

c.1811 Born, son of John and Mary Bird. He was baptized at Nympsfield, Gloucestershire in 1811[1].

Apprenticed to Philip Harris and Co., in Birmingham, druggists and chemists.

1835 Married Elizabeth Lavinia Ragg (1810–1888) in Nottingham

1837 Set up his own shop in Bell Street, Birmingham, under the title 'Alfred Bird, experimental chemist'.

1839 Death of their son Alfred F Bird[2] (or was this Alfred Henry Bird?)

Because of his wife's digestive problems, her intolerance of live-yeast products, and her allergy to eggs, he embarked upon extensive research into alternatives. In 1843 he succeeded, producing "Bird's Fermenting Powder", later better known as "baking powder". This could be used as a live-yeast substitute in baking bread, buns, and cakes, and instantly overcame his wife's problems, and those of many other similar sufferers. There was an immediate demand for the product.

He went on to produce another innovation, custard powder, which contained no eggs, was simple to use, tasted very good, and yet was both nutritious and inexpensive.

Bird's friends persuaded him to develop these products commercially, and there was a rapidly increasing demand for them; this necessitated a move to larger premises at 69 Worcester Street, Birmingham. Production greatly increased, and distribution became nationwide.

c.1844 Birth of 3rd son Charles (1844-1884) who went onto become a chemist.

1849 Birth of his son, Alfred Frederick Bird.

Other children died in infancy: Ann Eleanora Bird, Alfred Henry Bird, Matilda Elizabeth Bird, William Frederick Bird, John Richard Bird.[3]

1851 Alfred Bird 39, chemist, master, employed 3 men, lived in Edgbaston with Elizabeth L Bird 39, Jessie Martha Bird 5,Fanny Alice Bird 3, Alfred F Bird 1[4]

1853 Patent application by Alfred Bird, of 15, Worcester-street,Birmingham, Experimental Chemist, in respect of the invention of "improvements in the means of communicating between guards or persons and the engine-driver of a railway train.[5]

1853 Alfred Bird, of Birmingham, Chemist, gave notice of a patent application in respect of the invention of "certain improvements in apparatus to be employed for the purpose of communicating signals on railway trains and railways, which improvements are also applicable to other similar purposes.[6]

1855 Baking powder was accepted for production of fresh bread for the British army in the Crimean War. Large quantities were shipped.

An early pioneer of advertising, Bird advertised his baking powder in 1855, and in the press from 1860.

1861 Alfred Bird 49, chemist, employing 2 men, 2 apprentices, 1 boy and 10 girls, lived in Birmingham with Elizabeth Lavinia Bird 50, Charles Bird 17, Jessie Martha Bird 15, Alfred Frederick Bird 11[7]

Bird also carried out investigations in the fields of physics, meteorology, electricity, and magnetism. He constructed a water barometer and also devised a plan for demonstrating wind direction and air movements. He lectured extensively on electricity, on electric storage batteries, and electromagnetism. He also invented a night-light which could be refuelled while still alight, and he perfected a device to keep a ball suspended on a jet of water, which he placed in his shop window as a deliberate ploy to attract passers-by to his business. It was later modified for fairground shooting booths.

1866 Patent application by Alfred Bird, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Experimental and Pharmaceutical Chemist, in respect of the invention of "improvements in purifying water"[8]

Demonstrated his harmonized glass bowls at the Royal Institution, and later, by royal command, played before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

1870 elected a fellow of the Chemical Society

Founding member of the Philosophical Society.

1878 of 366 Bristol Road, and 93 Worcester Street, Birmingham, died at home[9].


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Parish records
  2. Parish record
  3. Alfred Bird's gravestone
  4. 1851 census
  5. London Gazette 31 May 1853
  6. London Gazette 6 Dec 1853
  7. 1861 census
  8. London Gazette 23 Jan 1866
  9. National probate calendar
  • Biography of Alfred Bird, ODNB