Elkington, George Richards (DNB00)

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ELKINGTON, GEORGE RICHARDS (1801–1866), introducer of electro-plating, son of James Elkington, gilt-toy and spectacle manufacturer, was born 17 Oct. 1801, at St. Paul's Square, Birmingham. In 1815 he was apprenticed to his uncles, Josiah and George Richards, of St. Paul's Square, where he early showed great business capabilities, and was soon taken into partnership. On the death of his uncles, Elkington came into sole possession of their business. His whole life was spent in Birmingham, where he was a govenor of King Edward's Grammar School, and was made a borough magistrate in 1856, but was of very unostentatious and retiring habits. He married Mary Auster Balleny, by whom he had five sons and one daughter. He died of paralysis at his residence. Pool Park, Denbighshire, on 23 Sept. 1865.

Elkington showed indomitable energy in introducing, in conjunction with his cousin, Henry Elkington [see below], the industry of electro-plating and electro-gilding. Up to 1840 plated silver goods were made only by rolling or soldering thin sheets of silver upon copper. Wollaston had in 1801 applied the principle of the voltaic pile to the deposition of one metal upon another. Subsequent applications of this principle, by Bessemer (1834), Jacobi (1838), and Spencer of Liverpool (1839) induced the Elkingtons to attempt a practical employment of the method in their trade. In 1836 and 1837 they had taken out patents for 'mercurial gilding;' and a patent of July 1838 first refers to the aplication of a separate current of electricity. In 1842 John Wright, a Birmingham surgeon, discovered what has since proved to be the best of all liquids for electro-plating — solutions of the cyanides of gold and silver in cyanide of potassium. The Elkingtons took out a patent embodying this process, for which they paid Wright (d. 1844) a royalty, and afterwards an annuity to his widow. They also bought a process invented by J. S. Woolrich in August 1842, depending upon Faraday's discovery (1830) of magneto-electricity. In 1843 Josiah Mason [q. v.] became a partner in the firm. The large works in Newhell Street, Birmingham, were completed in 1841, and after a seven years' struggle against the opposition of the older svstems, commercial success was attained. The Elkingtons patented their processes in France in 1842, when they were opposed by a M. de Ruolx. A compromise was ultimately made, and the Monthyon Prix of a gold medal and twelve hundred francs divided between De Ruolz and the Elkingtons. In 1881 [[Siemens (DNB00)|Sir C. W. Siemens [q. v.], in an address at the Midland Institute, expressed his gratitude to G. R. Elkington for his early and generous encouragement of his improvements. Elkington, with Mason, established large copper-smelting works at Pembrey, South Wales. He was a generous master, and built houses and schools for the persons employed in his business. After his death the business was carried on by his sons.

Henry Elkington (1810-1852), cousin of G. R. Elkington, born in 1810, was the son of John Elikington of Princethorpe, Warwickshire. He was apprenticed to his uncle James, and while so employed invented and patented the pantascopic spectacles. He began to study electro-plating about 1832, He afterwards entered into partnership with his cousin, and was specially useful in the artistic department. He married the sister of G.R. Elkington, and died 26 Oct. 1852. He was buried in the churchyard of Northfield, and a monument was placed in the church. He left one son, who died young.

Private information from relatives; Times, 5 Dec. 1865; Morning Post, 1862; R. B. Prosier, in Birmingham Weekly Post, 24 July 1880; Journal Society of Arts, 29 Jan. 1864; Bunce's Biography of Josiah Mason (privately printed), 1882; George Gore, in Popular Science Review, April and October 1862; Art Manufactures of Birmingham and Midland Counties in lnternational Exhibition of 1862, by George Wallis; Report by Elkington and De Ruolz in Sturgeon's Ann. of Electricity, 1842; Article by W. Ryland, in Timmins's Birmingham and the Midland Hardware District, 1866; Art of Electro-Metallurgy, by George Gore, 1877; Jurors' Reports, Exhibition of 1851.]

W. J. H.