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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Ihde, Aaron J.; Conners, James W.
Chemical industry in early Wisconsin,   pp. 5-20 PDF (5.8 MB)


Page 7

 1955] Ihde ' & Conners—Chemical Industry in Wisconsin 7 
 Minerals desirable for a flourishing chemical industry are sodium chloride,
sulfur, and limestone. Salt serves as a source of alkalies, chlorine, and
salt cake, as well as a variety of lesser chemicals derived from sodium or
chlorine. Sulfur is essential in the production of sulfuric acid, industry's
most important acid. Limestone serves as a source of inexpensive base, as
a flux in metal smelting, and in a variety of other chemical processes. Wisconsin
has only limestone, which is also abundant in many other states. 
 Again we are forced to conclude that Wisconsin is not naturally endowed
for a thriving chemical industry. We must then expect that developments would
be in such directions as would utilize its more obvious resources, or toward
the development of specialty items not greatly dependen't on available resources.
Our study reveals that both directions were followed. In the early days of
Wisconsin's history its chemical industry was based largely upon its most
important resource, timber. In time there was a drift toward a chemical industry
based on agriculture as the brewing industry developed. Recent times have
seen the development of specialty produces such as waxes, flavors, dyes,
and pharmaceuticals. 
 Not only fs timber useful for lumber and the various products fabricated
therefrom but is also the starting material for the production of such chemicals
as charcoal, acetic acid, methyl (wood) alcohol, acetone, and potash. The
bark of certain, trees, particularly oak and hemlock, is valued as a source
of tannins for the conversion of skins into leather. Wood provides the sticks
for matches and the cellulose for pulp and paper. Wisconsin's early chemical
industry evolved primarily from these products. 
 Early production of chemicals was small in scale and primitive in technique.
Hand labor was aided only by simple and crude machinery. Operators started
and terminated operations on short notice as supply and market conditions
fluctuated. As a result, records have been hard to trace. It is only possible
to indicate the kind of operations and give a few specific examples. 
POTASH 
 Crude potassium carbonate produced from the leachings of wood ashes must
have been a household product connected with domestic soap-making in early
Wisconsin just as it had been in the Eastern States and in Europe. It was
natural, in view of the abundance of hardwood in the state, that production
for sale should develop early. The operation can be carried out on a small
scale with a minimum of equipment. It requires no skilled labor. 


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