Herbert Henry Dow has invented many successful diversifications and several business reorganizations, first into chlorine chemicals, then into organic chemicals, such as phenol and indigo dye, and finally into magnesium metal.
Herbert Henry Dow was born in 1866 in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. He was the eldest child of Joseph Henry Dow who was an inventor and mechanical engineer. Since childhood, Dow helped his father with mechanical problems and invented an incubator for chicken eggs before he was even 12 years of age. Several years later, he and his father co-invented a small steam turbine which the United States Navy used for many years in torpedo propulsion.
After graduating from high school in 1884, Dow enrolled in the Case School of Applied Science which is now known as Case Western Reserve University. While at Case, he became a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He began specialized research into the chemical composition of brines in Ohio and the nearby areas.
He discovered that the brine samples from Canton, Ohio and Midland, Michigan were very rich in bromine, which at that time was a primary ingredient in medicines and was used heavily in the photographic industry.
Following his graduation from Case in 1888, Dow worked for a year as a chemistry professor at Huron Street Hospital College in Cleveland and was still continuing his research into the extraction of chemicals from brine.
Novel way for Bromine Extraction
The standard method of extracting bromine was to evaporate the brine. This was done using fuel from the leftover wood scraps which were found from the fast-disappearing lumber industry. The sodium chloride was removed from the bromine by way of crystallization method. An oxidizing agent is added to the remaining liquid which contains the bromine ions. This finally distils the bromine.
To eliminate the need for the now-costly fuel that is used in the evaporation and distillation steps, Dow's novel plan was executed in the year 1889 in Canton, Ohio. His plan was to oxidize the brine first with the proper amount of bleaching powder which included calcium hydroxide, calcium chloride, and calcium hypochlorite. This formed the bromine although it was still dissolved in brine. Next the brine was dripped onto burlap sacks, and in a "blowing-out" process a current of air was passed through the brine-soaked sacks to carry off the bromine gas. The bromine-laden air was then brought into contact with iron or an alkali solution, and the bromine was thereby extracted from the air as FeBr2, or alkali bromines.
Later, Dow's first company went bankrupt and he moved to Midland in the year 1890. He organized the Midland Chemical Company and oxidized the brine by way of electrolysis. He used electricity which was supplied by a second-hand 15-volt generator which was turned by the old steam engine in the flour mill he had rented in Midland.
After the bromine process was producing adequately, Dow wanted to use electrolysis to make sodium hydroxide and chlorine which could be turned into bleaching powder. But his first financial backers balked at this diversion of his talents. Dow turned instead to the faculty at Case for capital, forming the Dow Process Company in 1895. After considerable struggle, and yet another business reorganization to form the Dow Chemical Company, he again succeeded with a new process, the first of many successful diversifications and several business reorganizations, first into chlorine chemicals, then into organic chemicals, such as phenol and indigo dye, and finally into magnesium metal.
During Dow's lifetime, the company obtained its bromine, chlorine, sodium, calcium, and magnesium from the brine of ancient seas under Midland. Dow, like Fritz Haber, developed experimental processes to mine modern seas. Three years after his death in 1930, his company opened its first seawater-processing plant in North Carolina. By World War II, Dow plants on the Gulf Coast were in a position to supply magnesium for firebombs and to make lightweight parts for airplanes.