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By Dani Bryers on

Loos, blues and amazing inventors

Fans of the trading cards that we debuted last June will be excited to hear that we are bringing them back for February half term to try and put faces to some of the people who powered the Industrial Revolution in Manchester.

We’ve tried to pick people with interesting stories that you don’t always get to hear about. Here’s who we picked and why.

Selina cooper

A black and white picture of a Victorian lady, Selina Cooper, a suffragette and scientist
Selina Cooper—think of her next time you nip to the loo

Selina Cooper was a campaigner and suffragette—she started out advocating for doors on the toilets in the mill where she worked full time from the age of 13, and in 1901, at the age of 37 became the first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party when she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian. She was one of the four women chosen to present the case of women’s suffrage, asking for voting rights, to then Prime Minister William Asquith in 1910.

Because she wasn’t busy enough with politics already(!), she also took practical courses in hygiene and first aid so that she could advise workers who couldn’t afford private medical care, and during the First World War she opened the first Maternity Centre in Nelson, Lancashire. What better choice could there be in the year of the 100th anniversary of the first women getting the vote?

thomas edmondson

A sepia photo of a man wearing a black suit with white hair
Thomas Edmondson—he made your ticket to ride

Thomas Edmondson really hit the money when he invented a machine that would automatically number and validate train tickets. Prior to his invention, every ticket was hand written—both labour intensive and subject to human error. Edmondson charged railways who used his ticketing machine 10 shillings (about £290 in today’s money) per mile per year.

When the Manchester and Leeds Railway opened in 1839, he was made the chief booking clerk at Manchester. The railway was 51 miles in length once it was completed, so Edmondson was making £14,790 (today’s money) in royalties from that line alone, on top of his salary, in an age when a good income was the equivalent of around £22,000 (today’s money). He’s a real business success story, and we wanted to show that not all inventors are ‘mad scientists’—many are just people with regular jobs who figure out a better way to do things.

frank and william crossley

A black and white photo of a man with dark receding hair, wearing a suit and tie
Frank Crossley—didn’t spend much time in the pub

The Crossley Brothers, Frank and William, were the name in combustion engines in Manchester. We hold a number of their engines in our collection, and they had a hugely successful business career together with Frank taking care of the engineering side and William the business end. They were also well-known philanthropists and teetotallers, so refused to sell their engines to breweries!

We couldn’t possibly leave the Crossley brothers out since it’s impossible to talk about Manchester’s engineering history without coming across their work. One of our favourite engines to run is a Crossley Atmospheric Gas engine with a vertical piston that does a hilarious POP! sound as it clears the cylinder. It’s not a very efficient engine, but it was the precursor for their 4-stroke engines.

edward schunck

A black and white photo of a man with grey hair and a beard looking directly at the camera
Edward Schunk—true blue chemist

Edward Schunck was highly educated, studying in both Manchester and Berlin to earn his PhD in chemistry before coming back to Manchester and founding a calico dyeing and bleaching works. He did loads of experimenting with synthesizing different dyes, making them more colourfast and richer in colour.

His most notable experiment isn’t so glamorous though—he carried out an investigation into why workers in certain industries, such as brewing, had blue urine. There was a suspicion that this was because they were accidentally ingesting indigo from dyeing works nearby, but it was actually found to be a totally different cause. We never shy away from the gooey or gross history, and Edward Schunck’s research certainly falls into that category.

john benjamin dancer

A man with curly black hair and a dark beard, wearing a suit and bow tie
John Benjamin Dancer—big on beard, low on business savvy

John Benjamin Dancer’s workshop was less than a mile from where the museum is, on Cross Street. He built microscopes and other scientific instruments to order, and did loads of experimenting with different optical tools. He created the first known photograph of Manchester in 1842 by climbing to the roof of the Royal Exchange, near his workshop.

He gave a lot of time to other inventors, including helping James Joule build instruments that would eventually lead to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. Unfortunately what Dancer is probably best known for is neglecting to patent any of his inventions—for all his brilliance, he was a pretty poor businessman and died in poverty.

The sixth and final trading card will remain a mystery, but we’ll give you a hint: It’s a Lancashire-invented treat that leaves your fingers dusty. That’s all we’ll say—you’ll have to hunt it down when you come in to find out more!


Steam, Sweat and Spinners is at the Museum of Science and Industry from Saturday 10 February to Sunday 25 February 2018.

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