portion of the online exhibit outlines a number of the major electrochemical
companies in operation at the time of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901.
While each of these companies produced different chemicals and alloys,
they all located their operations along the Niagara River so that they
could capitalize on access to a single resourcethe abundant and
inexpensive electricity produced by the Falls.
the map for a larger version - 419 K]
M. Hall, an inventor of the electrolytic process used to recover aluminum,
and metallurgist Alfred E. Hunt formed the Pittsburgh Reduction Company
in 1888. This was the first electrochemical company to contract with the
Niagara Falls Power Company. The Niagara plant was located approximately
1/4 mile up river from the power station and operation began in August
1895. In November 1896, a second plant began production below the falls,
using power produced by the Niagara Falls Hydroelectric Power and Manufacturing
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In addition to developing carborundum, Edward G. Acheson recognized that at high temperatures, graphite was formed by the decomposition of metallic carbides, specifically, the silicon carbide used in carborundum production. Graphite was an important compound at this time, and was used in the loop filaments for incandescent lamps. The Acheson Graphite Company, which graphitized calcine carbon and anthracite coal, was constructed near the Carborundum plant. It would eventually become part of Union Carbide.
and A. E. Acker developed a process to electrolyze molten sodium chloride
to produce caustic soda and chlorine. The chlorine gas was absorbed by
lime and used to produce bleaching powder. The Acker plant was located
on the edge of the gorge, on the Niagara River below the Falls. Like the
second Pittsburgh Reduction Company plant, Acker received direct current
from the Niagara Falls Hydroelectric Power and Manufacturing Company,
which was located only 1500 feet away.
This was a branch of Mathieson Alkali Works, Inc. of Providence, RI, which operated a circuit of Castner rocking mercury cells as a pilot plant producing caustic soda and bleaching power for a year starting in 1895 at their alkali plant in Saltville, VA. The Niagara plant was built just up river from the upper aluminum works on land acquired from the Power Company. Charles Vaughn arranged to graphitize carbon anodes in a Carborundum furnace in accordance with a Castner patent. The first cell room started operating in 1897 with 540 cells at 600 amperes, using rock salt from the Retsof mine. The plant was enlarged in 1901 with 2 more cell rooms. The chlorine was absorbed in lime to make bleaching powder.
company was formed to work the processes of H. Y. Castner for producing
sodium, sodium peroxide, and sodium cyanide. The company was formed by
the Roessler and Hasslacher Chemical Co. of NJ, the Aluminum Co. of Oldbury,
England, and the Scheide Anstalt Co. Metallic Sodium was produced by electrolyzing
molten caustic soda just above its melting point. Four rows of 30 pots
operated at 1,200 amperes and 5 volts per pot, producing 6,250 pounds
of sodium per day and using 1,000 hp. The plant adjoined the Castner Electrolytic
Alkali Plant so that it was easy to roll drums of solid caustic soda from
one plant to the other.
Norton Emery was the old established firm from Worcester, MA that bought the Charles B. Jacobs patent for fusing bauxite in an electric furnace and allowing it to cool slowly whereby it acquired the hardness of corundum and the toughness of emery, making it suitable for abrasive wheels, stones, cloths and papers. The plant was situated about a mile above the upper power house and was in the charge of A. C. Higgins and S. F. Hall. Bauxite was first calcined to remove moisture and then fed into a vertical electric furnace. A batch was melted electrically, then cooled and left to cool further. Several furnaces consumed 500 hp. After cooling, the block was broken to convenient sizes, roughly graded and shipped to Worcester for further processing.
Isiah L. Roberts' diaphragm cells for
alkali-chlorine, were used by the Roberts Chemical Company, which built
a plant nearly 2 miles upriver from the Niagara Falls Power Company. Caustic
potash and bleaching powder were produced in a one-story frame building
using 500 hp. The Roberts Chemical Company became Niagara Alkali, then
finally part of Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Company.
plant of the American branch of the English Company, Albright and Wilson
of Oldbury, was located at the upper end of Power Company land. It used
1,000 hp. to make 1,000 pounds of electric furnace yellow phosphorus and
1,000 pounds of potassium chlorate per day. Sodium chlorate and perchlorate
were soon added. Phosphorus was produced in six electric furnaces of 50
hp. each using phosphate ore mixed with carbon and sand. Phosphorus distilled
from the furnace was condensed under water. A calcium silicate slag was
tapped out periodically. While platinum anodes were used originally in
the chlorate cells, graphite anodes were adapted soon after they became
available. This company would also become part of the Hooker Chemicals
and Plastics Company.