Dow Chemical Company history
Founded by Herbert H. Dow (1866–1930), chemist and horticulturist, in Midland, Michigan, in 1897, the company is the second-largest chemical company in the United States. Dow was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, but grew up in Cleveland, where he studied chemistry at Case School of Applied Science (now Case-Western Reserve University). He invented a process for extracting bromine from brine while still a student, and after several failed ventures founded the Dow Chemical Company at Midland, Michigan, in 1897.
Dow continued his chemical research activities throughout his life, amassing 107 patents while simultaneously directing a growing chemical company. Among his developments was Dowmetal, a magnesium metal extracted from underground brines. At the time of his death he was working on the extraction of magnesium from seawater, a development completed under the direction of his son and successor, Willard H. Dow. He died at Rochester, Minnesota, in 1930. His avocation, horticulture, gave birth to his company’s agricultural chemicals division and to the Dow Gardens, now a major Michigan tourist attraction.
The company continued to flourish after his death and inaugurated a plant where magnesium was extracted from seawater in 1939 in Freeport, Texas. The process was considered an engineering triumph and a major contribution to the Allied victory inWorld War II. The company also was a pioneer in the plastics field during the 1930s, developing polystyrene, saran, and Styrofoam, among other products. Its styrene was a key component of styrene-butadiene rubber, which replaced natural rubber during the war. In the postwar era the company again expanded rapidly to become a global force in the CHEMICAL INDUSTRY, manufacturing some 2,000 products. These range from metals to agricultural chemicals, among them Dursban, the world’s largestselling insecticide. In the 1960s, the company became a favorite target of students protesting the war in Vietnam because of its production of napalm for the military forces. During the 1990s the company reorganized, selling its pharmaceutical branch, Marion Merrell Dow, to the Hoechst Company of Germany, disposing of several smaller ventures, and streamlining its workforce from about 55,000 to 40,000. In 1999, it announced plans to merge with Union Carbide Corporation of New York City.
See also DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO., E. I.
- Brandt, E. N. Growth Company, Dow Chemical’s First Century. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997.
- Campbell, Murray, and Harrison Hatton. Herbert H. Dow, Pioneer in Creative Chemistry. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951.
- Whitehead, Don. The Dow Story: A History of the Dow Chemical Company. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
E. N. Brandt