Thursday 26 November 2009
Shell Chemicals, enamelled sign, 1960s
The design of the Shell 'pecten' logo on this sign dates it to the early 1960s. Shell's involvement in petrochemicals goes back to the late 1920s and by the 1950s it was investing heavily in the agricultural side. The Second World War emergency had fast-tracked development of new pesticides, such as the chlorinated hydrocarbon DDT, and powerful selective herbicides such as the phenoxyacetic compound 2,4-D. Shell offered DDT in dust, liquid and wettable powder form for control of leaf-eating insects and 2,4-D under the name Shell D 50 for control of weeds in cereals and grassland. By 1962, the company was one of the key players in the 33-member Association of British Manufacturers of Agricultural Chemicals with a total annual output between them worth £14 million using 75 chemicals to produce 566 approved products.
In the 1950s, Shell Chemicals Ltd produced a delightful booklet Farm Weeds. An Aid to their Recognition with pages of colour plates reproduced from watercolours by Doris R.Thompson.
In his Foreword, J.Hunt, Manager of the Agricultural Development Department of Shell Chemicals Ltd, wrote 'The control of weeds by chemicals has been one of the outstanding features of progress in farming methods during recent years, but the successful use of chemicals depends, in part, on accurate and early recognition of the weeds to be treated, while they are still in the early stages of growth'.
It was something of a 50s golden age for the industry. The atmosphere began to change with the publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by the American Rachel Carson in which she laid the foundations of the modern environmental movement by questioning the long term impact on health and ecology of organochlorine insecticides and the arsenical compounds present in synthetic pesticides. In the UK, the Agricultural Research Council's 1964 Report of the Research Committee on Toxic Chemicals called amongst other things for the development of more selective and safer pesticides of limited persistence; for new toxicological and biological studies in birds and wild life; and for an evaluation of the toxicological significance of the presence of pesticides in human body tissue. DDT was banned for most purposes in the US in 1972, in the UK in 1984, and is now barred from agricultural use worldwide by the Stockholm Convention.