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The birth of a fly control products manufacturer

| May 9, 2018

In the 19th Century, Sheep Scab,caused by the mite Psoroptes ovis, was a serious problem. Not only were the health and welfare of valuable flocks affected, but also significant income could be lost due to poor fleece and wool quality. The only treatment options available were smears containing tar and goose fat, tobacco stalks and brimstone, that had to be applied by hand to the fleece. This was labour intensive and not particularly effective in either controlling the mite or the spread of the disease.


In the early 1840s, William Cooper, a veterinary surgeon, arrived in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted and soon after established a firm producing one of the world’s first sheep dips. 150 years later the firm was a dominant presence within the town and was the precursor to several animal health and environmental firms that are still active across the globe today.

In the early 1840s a veterinary surgeon, originally from in Clunbury, Shropshire, arrived in the Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted, intending to establish a local veterinary practice. By 1843 William Cooper’s practice was in business, however William was also a chemist and had an interest in finding an effective solution to the Sheep Scab problem. Although the world’s first sheep dip, based on arsenic, was invented and produced by George Wilson of Coldstream, Scotland in 1830, William experimented with his own recipes, to treat the entire animal by completely immersing it in what was described as a dipping bath. This allowed the treatment to penetrate through the entire fleece down to the animal’s skin. It aimed to be effective at both curing infected animals, but more importantly protecting against new or re-infestation.

Coopers dipping powder

Initially the powder dip was prepared out of doors and mixed by hand with shovels, but by 1852, William Cooper had opened his first mill for the manufacture of what by then was known as Coopers Sheep Dipping Powder.

William’s chemicals of choice involved various combinations of arsenic and sulphur in powder form, which could be added to cold water. Over ten years, William eventually managed to produce a preparation, which could be easily manufactured, stored, packed and transported as a retail product. Initially the powder dip was prepared out of doors and mixed by hand with shovels, but by 1852, William Cooper had opened his first mill for the manufacture of what by then was known as Coopers Sheep Dipping Powder. At the Ravens Lane site, horse-powered mills were used for grinding, kilns for boiling the liquor were installed and the factory had dedicated areas where chemicals were prepared and processed.

Sales were good, and the factory was extended several times. Within a few years, William could no longer manage all aspects of the business, and in 1868 he was joined by his nephew William Farmer Cooper. The business continued to grow with sales in the region of 10,000 packets in 1856 rising to 360,000 packets by 1880. William Farmer Cooper developed the overseas trade and export. By 1880s the work force was 75-80 strong and two other nephews, Henry Herbert Cooper and Richard Powell Cooper, had joined the business and the firm was renamed Cooper and Nephews.

William Cooper also had an interest in printing and developed a lithographic process capable of producing labels for his products, which were not easily imitated. The factory buildings were also developed, including the Lower Works, which had access to a wharf on the Grand Union Canal. Today, where pleasure and tourist barges drift by or moor up next to water side inns, back then, barges carrying sulphur, arsenic and coal were unloaded and cases containing packets of powdered dip were reloaded for transport to the London docks.

By the late 1800s the Australian wool industry was also rapidly developing. In 1881, William travelled to Australia to promote his Cooper Sheep Dipping Powder. It was well received by farmers keen to control lice and Australia became a mainstay of the company’s success in its early years. By 1893, there were over 100 million sheep in Australia and Coopers was providing enough sheep dip to treat all of them.

This is an extract of the full article published in International Pest Control – January/February 2018 issue.

Read full article online on page 22

Author: David Loughlin*
*Editor IPC

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Category: Public health

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