Turning Point In Chemical History
the late 19th century, chemical production in the United States was
still in its infancy. Much of the nation's chemical supply was imported
from Europe, especially from powerful producers in Germany and Great
Britain. This state of affairs prevailed largely until World War I,
which marked a turning point for chemical production in this country.
With European imports cut off, American producers could, for the first
time, make and market their chemicals without interference from the
European cartels, which established prices and production quotas for
the makers of key products.
the early 1890s, pioneers of the U.S. chemical industry had begun
to form a technological basis for competing with the European giants.
Herbert H. Dow was one of the earliest of these trailblazers. As
a college chemistry student in Cleveland, Ohio, he became interested
in the brine deposits that underlie much of the American Midwest.
Here was an almost inexhaustible pool of chemical materials deposited
by the evaporation of prehistoric seas, just waiting, he perceived,
to be exploited. In fact, where these deposits lay close to the
earth's surface, enterprising scientists had already begun to use
crude production methods to mine them for chemicals.
manufacture bromine, for example, a main component of the patent
medicines of the day, brine wells were being drilled near West Virginia
and Ohio coal mines. After chemicals such as sulfuric acid and bleaching
powder were added to free bromine from other elements in the brine,
waste from a neighboring coal mine was used to boil the brine until
the reddish-brown liquid bromine came off with the steam. In areas
of Michigan where lumbering was done, the same process was used,
with waste lumber as the fuel source.