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