Dr George Grant: The Chemistry of Oil and Milk

One of our volunteers, Alexei, has spent the last few months transcribing a fascinating document. The transcribed version should be available in the next few days. It was so interesting that we asked him to write a blog. He very kindly agreed. Over to Alexei:

This latest transcription from the BP Archive is a rather unusual and incredibly interesting one. It is George Grant’s Process Book No.2. Sadly we don’t hold book No.1.

George Grant worked as a chemist at the Pumpherston Oil Works laboratory as early as 1911, and became Chief Chemist sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His book is dated July 1911, so he must have been employed by the company for some time before that, in order to fill Process Book No.1 (which we sadly don’t have in the Archive).

Pumpherston chemists
Male and female chemists in the laboratory at Pumpherston Oil Refinery, c1970s

It has proven exceedingly difficult to track down information about George Grant. We don’t even have a photograph of him. Normally we would expect to find a few articles in local newspapers, but there are none. In our collection there is a single document, besides his process book.

Scheme of Distillation of Shale Oil in Connected Boiler Stills, October 1913 – a single sheet sign by George Grant. BP Archive 215940

And he is occasionally mentioned in the oral histories. Thankfully, one of these provides an interesting insight into the type of person he was:

Mr Grant and I used to have a kind of row now and again … an argument, you know, he was an awful man, he was a right Tory! Of course, I was a great Socialist! Well, it was something about the Tate Lyle shares had went up, I was reading in the paper that they had went up, and there had been a leak in the Government, and of course, all the boys that had plenty of money were buying Tate and Lyle shares! They went up a good bit too! I went up to Mr Grant the next morning and I was telling him all about it, and he got me by the back of the neck and he ran me out of the office, and he says, “Don’t you come back in here, we’re not wanting you back in here!” He says, “Stay out and don’t come back again!” I said, “You won’t get any samples!” He said, “Well, it won’t matter, stay out!” he says. Oh well, he came round the work that same day and he says, “Listen, you come back as usual with your samples, but we don’t want to hear any more about politics up in that office, from you!” He says, “Mind that!” But he was nice about it, you know, he was quite nice about it!

The book itself is numbered very oddly. It appears that when George Grant first started to keep this record, he went through the volume using only the right hand pages, numbering those with Roman numerals. At some point he tired of these and switched to Arabic numerals. Then he reached the end of the book and went back through it again, this time using the left hand pages, many of which are not numbered at all. Where they are numbered, they just take the number of the facing page followed with a lower case ‘a’ in brackets. Watch out for this – we have presented our version strictly in the order in which the pages appear in the book, so beware!

What the book contains is a large number of tests and processes for analysing materials of all sorts. George Grant didn’t confine himself solely to processes necessary for his professional duties at the oil works, although those are certainly there. Scattered among the tests involving oil, wax, ammonia, and so on, there are processes for a wide array of other substances, some of them quite exotic. There is, for example, tests for ‘Estimation of Uranium’ and ‘Analysis of Milk or Cream Chocolate’, which could hardly have been much use at the Pumpherston Oil Works. Some highlights include a fully worked analysis of beeswax from all over the world, and one of typical beers. Also interesting are the tests to detect adulterations in food, drink, oils and so forth, chiefly because he tells you exactly what unscrupulous producers were trying to get away with circa 1911, for example, that cod liver oil was frequently adulterated with refined seal oil, or rape oil with cottonseed oil.

Page from George Grant’s book detailing the analysis of milk
Page from George Grant’s book detailing the estimation of nicotine in tobacco using the Kissling Method












Page from George Grant’s book detailing the detection of hydrogen peroxide in milk

A very interesting read. And not just for the scientists among us.