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)
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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