Saturday, July 11, 2009

Connecting hide and search

Many a Madrasi would have wondered about why Google's new browser was named so, when Chrome was unveiled. But she would have also taken it in her stride, for she has for a while been puzzled by why a company making leather products should be called 'Durable Chrome Factory', making it sound more like a manufacturer of kitchen utensils rather than footwear and luggage.

In the middle of the 19th century, it was discovered that treating animal skins with chromium sulfate makes for leather that is not only softer and stretchier than vegetable tanned leather but is also much more durable. By 1884, this process had been refined enough for it to be the method of choice for tanning leather. As a lad of 16, G.A.Chambers cut his teeth on the chrome tanning process in London; coming to Madras ten years later, in 1894, he spent the better part of the next decade of his life in the leather export trade, first as assistant and then as manager. During this time, he tried to get the local industry to adopt the chromium tanning process, but neither business nor government was interested in that approach. So, in 1903, he rented a small factory just south of Pallavaram and adopted the process he had tried to popularize. By a combination of circumstances, he became involved at both ends - production and export - of the leather trade, the latter in partnership with others, under the name of Chambers & Co., while the former was solely his; and the name he chose for that business was The Chrome Leather Company.

That Chambers was successful enough for the area around his factory to become known as Chromepet is easily guessable. But not so easy to figure out is what happened to The Chrome Leather Company, which was run by his daughter, Ida, well into the 1960s. My guess is that, after Ida, the company was taken over by someone who has been keen on the business, but not so savvy about the heritage of the organization that was taken over - surely it is reasonable to assume that Durable Chrome Factory, has its origins in G.A.Chamber's company, even if Google's latest product does not give us much to work with?


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