Definition: Enterprises that create, manipulate, or exploit substances through the use of chemistry
Significance: Chemicals have played an important role in the development and modern prosperity of the United States and of various businesses.
Manufacturers of such bulk chemicals as sulfuric acid and fertilizers, as well as such light chemicals as pharmaceuticals and synthetic fibers, helped transform chemical industries from the small, unoriginal, and inefficient enterprises of the eighteenth century into the world’s largest, most innovative, and most highly efficient oligopolies in the twenty-first century.
Great Britain’s mercantilist policies in the eighteenth century encouraged the export from its American colonies of such raw materials as pig iron and potash but discouraged the production of highquality steel and gunpowder. As a result, American chemical industries during and after the RevolutionaryWar were much inferior to those in England and other European countries. Were it not for the importation of high-quality gunpowder from France, the American war for independence might well have failed. Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who had learned to make excellent gunpowder under Antoine Lavoisier in Paris, came to the United States and, in 1802, began manufacturing highquality powder. The DuPont company, which became the chief manufacturer of explosives for the American government, grew, diversified, and prospered along with the nation.
- Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. Shaping the Industrial Century: The Remarkable Story of the Evolution of the Modern Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. This book, part of the Harvard Studies in Business History series, insightfully analyzes the evolution of influential chemical industries in the twentieth century, while showing why some companies prospered and others failed. Index.
- Haynes, William. American Chemical Industry: A History. 6 vols. New York: Van Nostrand, 1945-1954. This comprehensive history of the American chemical industry, written by a business historian, traces developments from the colonial period to the start of World War II. This indispensable work emphasizes the organizational and economic aspects of numerous chemical companies. Illustrations, chronologies, and appendixes.
- Hounshell, David, and John Kenly Smith, Jr. Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R&D, 1902-1980. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Hounshell, an expert on the development of industrial research in the United States, focuses on a company that has been important in the evolution of the American chemical industry. Index.
- Spitz, Peter H., ed. The Chemical Industry at the Millennium: Maturity, Restructuring, and Globalization. Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2003. Spitz heads a team of scholars who analyze the scientific, technological, economic, political, and environmental factors that have influenced the development of various chemical companies in the recent past.
- Thackray, Arnold, et al. Chemistry in America, 1876- 1976. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1985. Collects much useful and relevant information on the history of American chemistry and the chemical industry. Charts, graphs, tables, extensive bibliographies, and index.
See also: arms industry; Colonial economic systems; DDT banning; Environmental Protection Agency; Food-processing industries; Occupational Safety and Health Act; Petroleum industry; pharmaceutical industry.