John Sharp Douglas

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John Sharp may have been born in Ireland in about 1792 - some sources referring to him as Irish. Douglas, his mother’s maiden name, was an addition he made in Germany, where her father was an innkeeper in Hamburg.

In 1821, by then a soap boiler in Govan, Glasgow, John Sharp (c.1792 – 1847), set sail for Hamburg and opened a soap factory with a small shop on the side. He would pioneer soap production with scents and oils, while cultivating a strong brand that would stand the test of time.

John Sharp had enrolled for a Chemistry class in 1817 under Robert Cleghorn, lecturer of Chemistry at Glasgow University. This was the same year in which the Chair of Chemistry was founded by King George III, and Thomas Thomson, “the first teacher of practical chemistry”, was appointed.

John Sharp can certainly be considered an advocate of practical chemistry, knowledge which he employed 3 years later upon his arrival in Hamburg. His company would serve the ever increasing demand for “toilet soaps”, and make him his fortune in the booming Hanseatic city. His “chemical stroke of genius” that made him famous came in 1830, when he revolutionised soap making with his invention of the coconut oil soda soap.

The business was a continued success, but Douglas’ untimely death in 1847, meant that his children, from his marriage with the daughter of a Hamburg innkeeper, had to take over. Theodor Hopff took over management temporarily until two of the sons, Thomas and Alexander, were of age to run the business. Operating as J S Douglas & Söhne since 1850, the sons took over in 1863; Thomas was responsible for the manufacturing and Alexander for the business side, and together they modernised and internationalised the family company.

It was only in 1878, with Thomas’ unexplained resignation, that Alexander had to sell the company in order to secure its continued success in an increasingly competitive market, but the new owners, both Hamburg merchants, retained the company name and continued to benefit from the past branding, marketing and reputation of the firm. The Carsten sisters entered into contract with the soap factory in 1910, to use the name Douglas to “establish and operate a business in soaps, perfumery products, and toiletries in Hamburg.” And on 1 June 1910, the sisters opened the “Parfümerie Douglas” on Hamburg’s most expensive shopping boulevard – Neuer Wall – and the 100 year Jubilee was celebrated in 2010 by the company whose proud history started with the soap boiler from Govan.

The Sharp Douglas brothers returned to the place where their grandfather had left in 1820.



Alexander's sons, John's grandsons, Alexander, John and George were all students at Glasgow University.

Alexander Sharp Douglas, brother of George and John Sharp Douglas, attended the University in 1886. He was born in Hamburg, and was the grandson of John Sharp. Alexander enrolled at the University for one year in 1886 to study Mathematics under Professor William Jack, citing his hometown as Hamburg.

John Sharp Douglas, born in Hamburg, attended the University between 1889 and 1897 to study Medicine.

George Sharp Douglas studied at the University from 1892 to 1896. He was born in Hamburg, Germany. He resided in Cardross and later Greenock while studying at the University, joining his brothers, George and John. He took an Arts course, attending classes in Latin, German, Mathematics, Logic, English Literature, followed by two years of Physics, Chemistry and Zoology.

See also:
The Douglas Group




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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017