Vernon’s Patent Glass and China Company Ltd
A Case Study
Vernon’s company was founded by my great, great grandfather, James Vernon, and was incorporated in 1881, a time when there was an explosion of innovation and entrepreneurialism. James was responsible for and patented several inventions that combined china and rubber or steel and rubber. The most commercially successful was Vernon’s patented tableware. This was table ware and bathroom ware that had a rubber ring around the base to prevent sliding on sailing ships, cracking on the marble tops of wash stands and noise.
What were the determinants of innovation in his case and do they hold good today?
1. Law-new legislation that allowed companies to be incorporated with limited liability and shareholders.
2. Place- the clustering of activity in geographical areas to facilitate knowledge spread by craftsmen. James had a steel factory in Falkirk, a pottery in Burslem (the home of Wedgewood) and a network of distributors/specialised craftsmen in the East End of London. This was managed from his home in South West Scotland.
3. Infrastructure-canals in both Falkirk and the Stoke Potteries to facilitate distribution. Rail network to allow mobility. Electricity and power sources. James’ London office was on the Holborn Viaduct and this was the first place in London to have electricity in the year James set up his office.
4. Raw material imports/ global trade-rubber.
5. Technological shift/other innovations-electricity, rail, china manufacture, steel manufacture, manufacture processes.
6. IP protection-new patent protection legislation. James patented all his inventions.
7. Technical entrepreneurship-James commoditised grass roots knowledge gained through experience and was motivated to act on his insights and ideas.
8. Social/political movements- James was part of a growing public health movement where there was an interest in hygiene and bathroom ware. He exhibited and won a certificate at the 1886 Royal Society for the Promotion of Health Exhibition in London.
9. Trade Policy- Knowledge transfer through immigration. James’ expert craftsmen distributors in the East End of London came from Italy.
10. Mass communications-James promoted his company through editorials in newspapers, advertisements and exhibitions. He won a silver medal at the Great International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883.
11. Market shift-there was a demand for novel bathroom ware.
12. Creativity- James was the first to combine existing material (china and rubber) to create a novel product.
13. Finance- investment by shareholders who included the ‘great and good’ of his home town where James was a benefactor (he founded the local orphanage for girls) and sat on the town council.
14. Intelligence/cognitive style-the ability to detect and process environmental signals and to work across a networked, lateral system.
The eventual failure of James’ business interests came about typically as a result of ‘gales of creative destruction.’ In 1904, James patented a ‘recipe’ for steel to be produced by his own steelworks and unfortunately combined steel and rubber to create the ‘silent horse shoe.’ While horses were still used in rural settings for agricultural work at this time, the new entrant to the transport market was of course the motor car.