Henry Dow (1866-1930)
H. Dow, born in Belleville, Ontario, was reared to a life of
enterprise and invention by his father, J. Henry Dow, a tinkerer and
inventor best remembered for the Dow turbine, a device that powered
U.S. Navy torpedoes during much of the 19th century. He grew up in
Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from the Case School of Applied Science
in 1888, having studied chemistry with the renowned Edward W. Morley
and physics with Albert A. Michelson, the first U.S. Nobel laureate
(1907). Dow's senior thesis, a study of the composition of northern
Ohio salt brines, initiated a lifelong interest in "mining" the chemicals
stored in underground brines. By graduation, he had devised his "blowing-out"
process for liberating bromine from the brine and received the first
of 107 patents he eventually was granted.
1889, Dow formed the Canton Chemical Company (Canton, Ohio) to exploit
his invention. The company failed because the process was not economically
feasible. Dow then began experiments using electrolytic cells. In
1890 he moved to Midland, Mich., and established the Midland Chemical
Company, where he first produced bromine electrolytically. Once
this firm was operating successfully, Dow began extracting other
elements from the brine, beginning with chlorine. His backers, however,
refused to fund these efforts, and he was fired in 1894. Undaunted,
he returned to the Canton area and formed the Dow Process Company,
where he worked in great secrecy to perfect his electrolytic cell
to extract chlorine from brine. In 1897, with the help of supporters
in Cleveland, he formed The Dow Chemical Company, using his new
chlorine cell to make bleach as its original product. The company
was an immediate success and in 1900 absorbed the Midland Chemical
succeeding years, during which Dow continued his work at the lab
bench, the company made and marketed a growing number of products
derived from the brine stream, ranging from chloroform and sodium
benzoate to calcium chloride and Epsom salts. During World War I,
the company succeeded in extracting magnesium metal from the brines
and was the first in the United States to synthesize indigo, a key
dyestuff cut off from U.S. markets by the war in Europe.
World War I, Charles F. Kettering and Thomas Midgley, Jr., of General
Motors, the developers of tetraethyl lead, came to Herbert Dow with
a technical problem. Their desire to make tetraethyl lead, or "ethyl"
gas (which prevented knocking in automobile engines) available to
U.S. motorists would require huge volumes of ethylene dibromide
and therefore more bromine than anyone in the world could produce.
"Perhaps more bromine than exists in the world," Midgley said. "Then
we'll have to go to the oceans for it," Dow told them. The ocean
waters, he explained, were simply "diluted brines."
1929, he was ready to build a plant to extract bromine from seawater,
but death intervened. Dow died on Oct. 16, 1930. His work
was completed in 1934 by Willard H. Dow, his son and successor as
the company's president.