A timeline of chemical manufacturing


The greatest events in the history of chemistry. From ancient times to the present

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4000 BC Glassmaking, brickmaking, and copper smelting are practiced.

3000 BC Coal is used as a fuel petroleum and bitumen (asphalt) in adhesives, waterproofing and roads.

3100 BC Candles are in use.

2200 BC Crude oil is refined in China for lamps and heating.

1750 BC The Sumerians brew beer.

1500 BC Smelted iron tools are made in Armenia.

900 BC The Chinese use natural gas for brine evaporation.

350 BC Aristotle proposes the use of distillation to desalinate sea water.

105 AD Paper is manufactured in China.

late 900s AD Chemists in Moorish Spain distill alcohol for use as a solvent and asan antiseptic.

mid-1500s Paracelsus produces hydrogen, probably through the combination of sulfuric acid and iron.

1597 Andreas Libavius publishes Alchemia, the first European chemical textbook, which describes the preparation of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and tin tetrachloride.

1621 The first ironworks in North America is set up at Jamestown, Virginia, US.

1635 John Winthrop Jr. opens America’s first chemical plant, in Boston. It produces saltpeter (for gunpowder) and alum (for tanning).

1684 John Clayton of Yorkshire, UK, produces coal gas by distillation, though he does not find a practical use for it.

1746 John Roebuck begins producing sulfuric acid by the lead-chamber method.

1789 Nicholas LeBlanc develops his process for converting common salt into soda ash, or sodium carbonate.

1792 William Murdock produces “coal gas,” or “manufactured gas,” and conveys it through metal pipes, lighting his Cornwall, UK cottage and offices.

1802 The E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) is founded to produce gunpowder near Wilmington, Delaware, US.

1807 Humphrey Davy uses electric current to prepare metals from molecules such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium.

1809 Chilean nitrates are discovered and be-come the primary source of nitrogen for explosives and for the chemical industry.

1819 John Kidd distills coal tar to produce naphthalene.

1824 Joseph Aspin, an English bricklayer, receives the first patent for Portland cement, which becomes an essential component of concrete and mortar.

1828 Friederich Wohler synthesizes the first organic compound from inorganic compounds, preparing urea by reacting lead cyanate with ammonia.

1831 Peregrine Phillips, a UK vinegar merchant, patents the contact process for manufacturing sulfuric acid.

1838 A commercial shale oil industry is established in Autun, France, to produce lamp fuel.

1839 Charles Goodyear vulcanizes rubber.

1842 Sir John Bennet Lawes patents the first artificial fertilizer, “superphosphate,” a combination of rock phosphate and sulfuric acid.

1845 Alfred Kolbe synthesizes acetic acid.

1846 Ascanio Sobrero prepares nitroglycerin. Canadian Abraham Gesner distills kerosene from coal. He founds Kerosene Gaslight Co. in 1850, and later distills kerosene from petroleum.

1848 The world’s first modern oil well is drilled in Baku, Azerbaijan.

1850 The first petroleum refinery, consisting of a one-barrel still, is built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, by Samuel Kier.

1854 The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company becomes the first oil firm in the US.

1855 Benjamin Silliman of New Haven, Connecticut, US, distills petroleum to obtain tar, naphthalene, gasoline, and various solvents.

1856 The first artificial aniline coal tar dye is developed by William Perkin.

1863 Ernest Solvay perfects his method for producing sodium bicarbonate. The British government passes the “Alkali Works Act” in an effort to control environmental emissions.

1866 Alfred Nobel invents dynamite. Celluloid is invented by Alexander Parkes (“The Father of Plastics”).

1869 Celluloid, the first synthetic plastic to see wide commercial use, is produced by John Hyatt in Albany, New York, US. The first oil tanker, the Charles, of Antwerp, Belgium, carries 7,000 barrels of oil from the US to Europe.

1873 “London fog” kills 1,150 people in the UK. Thaddeus Lowe of the US invents the water gas method to obtain hydrogen from coal and steam.

1879 Constantin Fahlberg discovers saccharin, which has been sold commercially since about 1900.

1880s US-based Standard Oil produces kerosene and ships it around the world.

1884 The Solvay Process Co. of the US begins making soda ash in Syracuse, New York. Viscose rayon is invented by French chemist Hilaire de Chardonnet.

1895 Germany’s Linde develops a process that allows for liquefying air.

1897 Badishe produces synthetic Indigo at commercial scale in Germany.

1891 Herman Frasch patents the Frasch process for extracting sulfur compounds from oil using copper oxide powder. Joseph Henry Dow invents an electrolytic method for extracting bromine.

1892 Thomas Wilson discovers commercial processes for producing acetylene and calcium carbide.

1899 The first bottle of Bayer Aspirin goes on sale.

1901 George Davis publishes “Handbook of Chemical Engineering.”

1906 Charles James develops method for separating rare earth elements.

1908 Svante Arrhenius argues that the greenhouse effect from coal and petroleum use is warming the globe. Leo Baekeland (“The Father of the Plastics Industry”) patents Bakelite production begins in 1910.

1910 Carl Bosch commercializes the Haber Process for BASF in Ludwigshafen, Germany. A US Rayon plant is constructed by the American Viscose Co.

1912 In Switzerland, cellophane is produced commercially after being discovered by Jacques Brandenberger in 1908.

1913 William Burton of the Standard Oil Company receives a patent for a thermal petroleum cracking process. The Merck Chemical Company patents what is now known as ecstasy. Fritz Klatte synthesizes and patents polyvinyl acetate (PVA).

1915 Fritz Haber supervises the use of toxic gas (chlorine) at the Second Battle of Ypres. Corning Glass Works begins marketing Pyrex glass.

1917 A full-sized plant, producing nitric acid from ammonia, is built by the Chemical Construction Co. DuPont enters the dye business.

1920 Isopropyl alcohol produced at Standard Oil’s Bayway, New Jersey, US, plant is the first commercial petrochemical.

1920s Cellulose acetate, acrylics (Lucite & Plexiglas), and polystyrene can finally be produced in large quantities. Eugene Jules Houdry developed a catalytic method for cracking low-grade crude oil into high-test gasoline.

1921 A 4,500 tonne stockpile of ammonium nitrate (AN) and ammonium sulfate explodes at a chemical plant in Oppau, Germany, killing 600, injuring 1,500, and leaving 7,000 homeless.

1923 Matthias Pier of BASF develops a process to produce synthetic methanol. Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch develop the Fisher-Tropsch process, a method for producing synthetic liquid fuel from coal gas.

1924 Five refinery workers die at a Standard Oil refinery making tetraethyl lead in unsafe conditions.

1926 DuPont and Commercial Solvents begin synthetic methanol production in the US. Fritz Winkler introduces a process for commercial fluidized-bed coal gasification at a BASF plant in Leuna, Germany. George Ebert produces a synthetic rubber from butadiene.

1927 Frederic Stanley Kipping discovers silicones.

1928 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin.

1930s DuPont begins the manufacture of refrigerant Freon.

1930 Wallace Carothers of DuPont invents Neoprene. Commercial production begins in 1932.

1933 Reginald Gibson and Eric William Fawcett of Imperial Chemical Industries discover polyethylene (PE). DuPont begins production of Rayon tire cord fabrics.

1935 Wallace Carothers of DuPont develops nylon it is commercialized in 1939. Germany-based Henkel develops melamine-formaldehyde resins.

1936 US-based Rohm and Haas markets methyl methacrylate plastics (PMMA). The Houdry Process is used in the cracking of petroleum. Germany’s Lurgi develops a coal gasification process.

1937 Dow Chemical offers polystyrene (PS) in the US. Polyurethane (PU) is invented by Germany’s Bayer.

1938 DuPont’s Roy Plunkett develops Teflon it comes onto the market in 1944.

1939 Germany’s IG Farben files a patent for “polyepoxide” or “epoxy.”

1940 Standard Oil develops catalytic reforming to produce higher octane gasoline and creates toluene for TNT. First tire from synthetic rubber produced in US.

1941 The first commercial plant for liquefied natural gas (LNG) is built in Cleveland, Ohio, US. Rex Whinfield and James Dickson develop polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) first produced in the US.

1942 A team of inventors at US-based Exxon develop fluid catalytic cracking, a process that now produces more than half of the world’s gasoline. Polyester resins are introduced.

1943 DDT comes into widespread use. US-based Dow Corning is founded to commercialize silicones. Streptomycin, the first broad-spectrum antibiotic, is isolated by Selman Waksman.

1944 Commercial-scale production of penicillin by fermentation.

1945 Germany’s IG Farben is broken up into BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst. The selective herbicide 2,4-D, revolutionizing weed control in cereal plants, is patented.

1947 A barge of AN explodes, destroying Texas City, Texas, US, killing 576.

1948 A deadly smog settles over the small steel mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania, US, killing 19 people.

1950 Benzene is produced from petroleum.

1951 Mexico’s Syntex produces the first birth control pill. Robert Banks and Paul Hogan of US-based Phillips Petroleum invent crystalline polypropylene (PP) and high density polyethylene (HDPE)

1952 DuPont introduces Mylar. Thousands die in London, UK’s Great Smog.

1953 Hermann Schnell invents polycarbonate (PC) for Bayer. Dacron is produced for use in the textiles industry. The production of soap is exceeded by synthetic detergents.

1954 Polyisoprene rubber developed. Creation of synthetic zeolites, which gain widespread use in the cracking process in the petrochemical industry. Cell-culturing techniques are developed.

1955 US-based General Electric produces a synthetic diamond. Tetracycline is patented by US-based Pfizer.

1955 Japan’s Kyowa Hakko Kogyo invents a process of amino acid production through fermentation.

1957 General Electric further develops PC plastics. Raychem is founded in the US, beginning a new industry based on radiation chemistry.

1959 US-based Air Products builds a large-scale hydrogen plant for rocket fuel.

1962 The smog in London kills 1,000 people. Rachel Carson publishes the influential book Silent Spring.

1962 Neil Bartlett synthesizes the first noble gas compound.

1965 NutraSweet is developed by James Schlatter at US-based G.D. Searle. Du-Pont’s Stephanie Kowlek invents Kevlar.

1966 The first attempt to control organic solvent emissions is made by Los An-geles, California, US. Camptothecin and paclitaxel are discovered at Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, US.

1968 The consumption of man-made fibers exceeds natural fibers in the US.

1969 An enzyme is synthesized in vitro for the very first time.

1970 The first silica fiber optical cable is produced at the Corning Glass Works in New York, US, using chemical vapor deposition.

1972 The Clean Water Act is passed in the US. Paul Berg combines genes from different organisms.

1973 Nathaniel Wyeth receives a patent for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles. Livestock feed contaminated with polybrominated biphenyls is accidentally distributed to farms in Michigan, US.

1974 Cyclohexane vapor from ruptured pipe explodes, killing 28 in Flixborough, UK.

1970-1974 Scientists link depletion of the ozone layer to nitrogen oxides and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions.

1975 Insecticide Kepone banned after releases from a a chemical plant into James River in Virginia, US.

1976 New York State, US, bans fishing in Hudson River due to contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls. The US Congress passes the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. Genentech, the first recombinant DNA biotech company, is founded in the US.

1978 Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are banned as spray propellants in the US. Chemical pollution of Love Canal, New York, US, is declared an emergency.

1980 The Superfund is formed to be used by the US EPA in cleaning up polluted sites. US bans the sale of lead-based paints. A human gene coding for interferon is introduced into a bacterium.

1982 The first recombinant DNA drug, Genentech’s Humulin, is marketed.

1983 Eastman Chemical of Rochester, New York, US, is the first coal-to-chemicals facility to produce acetyl chemicals. Use of high-sulfur coal displaces oil for producing acetyl chemicals.

1984 A toxic gas release at US-based Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, kills more than 2,000. The first commercial coal gasification plant in the US, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, goes into operation in Beulah, North Dakota.

1985 Responsible Care is initiated in Canada. Richard Smalley and Harold Kroto discover Buckyballs.

1988 Drug firm Eli Lilly patents Prozac.

1990 The US Clean Air Act Amendments require cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels.

1996 Glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans come to market.

1998 Pfizer introduces Viagra, leading the way for a slew of new lifestyle drugs.


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