John Mercer was born in Lancashire, England, in 1791. He became a calico printer.
When he was fifty-three years old he discovered a chemical process by which cotton fabric became thicker and softer and its affinity for dyes greatly increased.
He patented the process in 1855, but no practical use came of the discovery for another forty-five years. The difficulty was that the fabric shrunk from 20 to 25 per cent in the process.
This loss, plus the cost, was then considered prohibitive for the results obtained. But in 1895, taking advantage of intermediate discoveries, Messrs. Thomas and Prevost found that the shrinkage could be almost eliminated by treating the material under tension and that, at the same time, a permanent silky luster was imparted to the fabric.
Mercer, who had died in 1866, had merely spoken of his process as “sodaizing,” with reference to the caustic soda that he used.
But in view of the original discovery made by him, the revised process became known as mercerization, and the operator is said to mercerize the cloth.