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Chemical Valley, West Virginia
Transcript of Chemical Valley, West Virginia
West Virginia's Chemical Industry can be linked back all the way to the Native Americans. They were the first to produce Sodium Chloride, commonly known as salt.
Germany was the world's leader in chemicals before World War I. The world purchased most of their dyes and chemicals from them without needing to look anywhere else.
Jerry Stover have been in the chemical industry since 1965. He is a chemical engineer.
Overall, the chemical industry in the valley continued to grow in the years after the war, and unlike much of the nation, the industry experienced expansion throughout the Great Depression.
When settlers came, they too began mining salt. It soon after became an important commodity.
The Chemical Valley
Starting at the Gauley Bridge, where the Gauley and New River combine their mighty power to create the Kanawha River, then racing through 96 miles of mountain until it hits Pt. Pleasant and its Ohio River basin, the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia is one of the most recognized valleys in the world. It holds some of the richest natural resources known to man.
The Chemical Industry is an important part of the history of the Kanawha Valley, making it what it is known today as the “Chemical Valley”.
"Before the settlement of Bulltown, the Delaware Indians were making use of the salt brines as early as 1770 along the Little Kanawha River."
It started to be sought after by other parts of the nation. It became a necessity for large quantities of salt to be produced.
"Elisha Brooks constructed the first salt furnace in the valley in 1797, and with this construction came a world of new possibilities. Elisha could not have foreseen the industrial center that would blossom from the very same resource that he commercialized. Yet, one man did see the future uses of salt, and in an 1876 Geological Report, John P. Hale predicted the future use of salts in the large scale production of “alkalines and other chemicals having salt as a basis or important constituent.”
DuPont had been the leading manufacturer in powder before the war. Once the war started, the United States needed to get powder from elsewhere. Inexpensive and plentiful natural gas, salt, coal, and oil feedstocks attracted officials to Kanawha County. Secretary of War Newton Baker approved a development along the Kanawha River outside of Charleston for an explosives plant. A naval ordinance plant was set for South Charleston, and a mustard gas plant for Belle.
West Virginia had an abundance of natural resources that many people sought after. The chemical industry would have never come to be if it weren't for West Virginia's plentiful raw material.
"Chemists had plentiful raw material, of feedstock, in the area from natural gas, coal oil, and other mineral deposits, such as high quality limestone. Carbon from coal, oxygen and nitrogen from the air, and chlorine from the salt brine, hydrogen from water, and easy importation of sulfur, provided the “big six” main elements that are the base of all products."
The decline of the salt industry caused a lot of things to happen in the general chemical industry. Following the Civil War, simple chemical industries started to form. They started to develop bromides or potassium salts.
Chemical Industry and the War
The city of Nitro was soon created, named after the gun powder manufactured there. The gun powder was made through a process of "Nitro-cellulose". The plant was created in 1918, and was titled "Explosives Plant C"
"With the birth at the turn of the century, chemical manufacturing has continued to grow and mature throughout the state and today remains one of the chief industries. Charleston, at the heart of the Kanawha Valley, became the governmental and commercial hub of the state, but the chemical industrial sites that bloomed throughout the surrounding suburbs provided the region’s residents with a solid blue collar job base. The area, and in part the entire state, owes the development of the area to the federal government who invested so heavily during the two world wars, and to Union Carbide whose research and development facilities provided the area an ability to attract and develop new firms and product lines."
The world's first petrochemical plant was started by Union Carbide in 1920 at Clendenin, West Virginia. By 1925 the the demand for their chemicals was so heavy that they created a new chemical plant, and the Clendenin establishment was moved to the new location at South Charleston, West Virginia.
(The Dow Chemical Company)
Where was the first chemical plant you worked at, and what was it called?
"E.I. Dupont, Bell WV"
What made you want to work in the chemical industry?
"My father worked at Carbide"
Are there any other family members that were or are in the chemical industry?
"My father, grandfather, uncle, and brother"
How difficult is it to start working in the chemical industry?
"When I started, the Kanawha Valley was called "The Chemical Center of the World". It was about the only work around. It wasn't that hard [to get into]."
Caldwell, Leigh Ann. West Virginia: New health hazard, same story? 19 January 2014. 18 February 2014 <http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/16/politics/west-virginia-chemical-water/>.
Cantrell, Nathan. "West Virginia's Chemical Industry." April 2004. West Virginia Culture and History. 5 February 2014 <http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvhs1821.pdf>.
OECD. "Environmental Outlook for the Chemical Industry." 2001. oecd.org. 18 February 2014 <http://www.oecd.org/env/ehs/2375538.pdf>.
Stover, Jerry. Chemical Engineering Interview
Questions Jamee Stover. 11 February 2014.
The Dow Chemical Company. Our History. 2014. 12 February 2014 <http://www.dow.com/ucc/locations/westvir/awv/history.htm>.