Harold Rose

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries -

A PI­O­NEER­ING chem­i­cal en­gi­neer whose in­ven­tions en­cap­su­lated Bri­tain’s in­ven­tive flair, Dr Harold Rose cre­ated pre­fabs, air­port run­way sur­fac­ing and the gar­ment glue, Staflex. The youngest of five chil­dren of Bar­nett and Fanny Rosen­berg, im­mi­grants from Tsarist Rus­sia who set­tled in Whitechapel, he was their only child to go to uni­ver­sity, gain­ing a de­gree in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Queen Mary Col­lege, Lon­don.

Charged with find­ing al­ter­na­tive build­ing ma­te­ri­als in the Sec­ond World War, he went to Egypt with an honorary com­mis­sion and re­turned with pa­pyrus reeds which were com­pressed into build­ing blocks. He also worked on plans to sab­o­tage any Ger­man in­va­sion by con­tam­i­nat­ing petrol with su­gar.

In the des­per­ate post-war hous­ing short­age, he was tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor and sole head of construction for UniSeco homes, one of four de­signs of pre­fab­ri­cated dwelling. The pop­u­lar tim­ber­framed home far out­lasted its 10-year al­lot­ted span and some still ex­ist.

His work on in­dus­trial sealants still en­ables air­port run­ways to with­stand the heat and blast of jet en­gines. But per­haps his most im­por­tant ad­vance was to per­fect the use of resins to glue fab­ric. The tech­nique rev­o­lu­tionised the gar­ment in­dus­try and turned Staflex In­ter­na­tional Ltd into one of the hottest com­pa­nies of the 1960s.

Af­ter spending some years in in­dus­try, Rose was asked by brother-in-law Syd­ney Mor­gan, a tai­lor, if he could de­velop a chem­i­cal process to fuse pieces of ma­te­rial, thereby ob­vi­at­ing the need to sew in­ter­lin­ings.

For his ini­tial ex­per­i­ments Rose used spe­cially or­dered, un­per­fo­rated toi­let pa­per, four 6in strips from a Mec­cano kit, bull­dog clips, glass stir­ring rods and a pho­to­graphic de­vel­op­ing dish.

This was typ­i­cal of his love of home ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, which pre­ma­turely ter­mi­nated a long line of house­hold ap­pli­ances. In a book about his Staflex years, Rose later apol­o­gised to his wife.

De­spite fits and starts — cus­tomers com­plained that one ad­he­sive had a fishy smell — Rose per­fected the ma­te­ri­als and a method of spread­ing resinous dots uni­formly across a sin­gle con­tin­u­ous sheet, so that large sec­tions of fab­ric, such as suit fronts, could be glued in­stead of stitched. The kitchen oven was his dryer. By 1967 Staflex was sold in 29 coun­tries. A year later it won a Queen’s Award for In­dus­try and, in 1969, a Queen’s Award for Tech­no­log­i­cal In­no­va­tion. But with a plethora of im­i­ta­tions the com­pany, founded in 1951, was liq­ui­dated in 1978.

In 1979 Rose was awarded a doc­tor­ate from the Uni­ver­sity of Leeds for his the­sis on the de­vel­op­ment of fusible in­ter­lin­ings. His in­ven­tion had re­placed gen­er­a­tions of hand­crafted tai­lor­ing.

Re­tire­ment en­abled him to in­dulge a life­long in­ter­est in photography with a na­tion­wide se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions, cul­mi­nat­ing in The Chang­ing Face Of A City at the Mu­seum of Lon­don in 1989.

De­spite pro­gres­sive loss of eye­sight in later life, he re­mained ac­tive and op­ti­mistic and waged an in­ten­sive cam­paign to pop­u­larise yel­low sig­nage, as a clearer colour than white for the par­tially sighted. Yel­low started to be used for bus des­ti­na­tions and sim­i­lar sig­nage in 1998, and is now wide­spread.

A fel­low of the Royal In­sti­tute of Chem­istry and as­so­ciate mem­ber of the In­sti­tute of Chem­i­cal En­gi­neers, he was a long­stand­ing sup­porter of the Friends of the He­brew Uni­ver­sity. He funded a schol­ar­ship there and also served as trea­surer of the North West­ern Re­form Syn­a­gogue.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Jane née Fin­kle­man, whom he mar­ried in 1937; daugh­ter, Judy; son, Philip; five grand­chil­dren and three great-grand­chil­dren.

Dr Harold Rose: car­ried out world-chang­ing ex­per­i­ments in his kitchen

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