So it’s the mid-1800?s. CO2-producing carbonates are in common use among home bakers, as is cream of tartar. Why not get nuts, put the two together in dry powder form, and sell the whole shebang as a do-it-yourself one-scoop leavening reaction in a box?
That was the inspiration of one Alfred Bird, a pharmacist from Birmingham, England. Saddled with a spouse allergic to both yeast and eggs — but blessed with a talent for invention — Bird created the precursor to modern baking powder in 1843. It was, quite simply, a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch (which served to keep the chemicals separated as well absorb moisture from the air).
The problem with Bird’s miracle-in-a-jar was that it was expensive. Cream of tartar didn’t come cheaply in those days and that prevented Bird’s powder from being widely marketed. It was however a godsend for those with dietary restrictions, as well as for the English military, for whom it provided “quick breads” in the field.