Local Industry Owes Much to Weizmann powder

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					Local Industry Owes Much to Weizmann
By Frances E. Hughes

Had it not been for Chaim Weizmann, first President
of the State of Israel and an internationally famous
scientist and political leader, the Commercial
Solvents Corporation would not have been in business
nor have gained international status as a large chemi-
cal company as it did.
The Commercial Solvents started at the end of World
War I and continued as an independent company until
1975 when there was a merger of the company with
the International Minerals and Chemical Corporation.
Thus the Commercial Solvents became a wholly-
owned subsidiary of IMC.
The story of Weizmann is an interesting one as he
was a very intelligent and interesting man.
He was born on Nov. 17,1874, in the tiny town of Motele in the Propet marshes of Poland. The story about
Weizmann and the Commercial Solvents Corporation began with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 when
the British were using cordite as a propellant in both cartridges and shells. Cordite was then made by
galatanizing nitroglycerin and guncotton in acetone. The fragrant mint-smelling acetone was obtained almost
entirely from the distillation of wood, which had to be dried six months before being processed.
A desperate shortage developed with the outbreak of the war, and cordite made with defective acetone was
blamed for the defeat of a British naval squadron off Chile. Shells plopped harmlessly into the water far short
of the enemy, and two cruisers were sunk with all hands. The admiralty called for acetone in such quantities
that the wood in all the forests would have been insufficient.
Acetone in those days was obtained by heating wood in closed ovens, and it was supplied largely by Austria
and the United States. With the Austrian supply shut off, the amount of acetone available to the British was
inadequate to meet the rapidly increasing requirements for cordite. Later on, as the air warfare grew in inten-
sity, a further need for large amounts of acetone developed in the making of the so-called dope used to coat
the wings of airplanes.
In the meantime, Chaim Weizmann had already made a number of important contributions in the field of
One day in 1916, he was summoned to the British Admiralty, where he saw Dir. Frederick L. Nathan, head of
the powder department. He was told of the serious shortage of acetone, the solvent making cordite, without
which it would be necessary to make far-reaching changes in naval guns.
Weizmann was then taken to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who told him they needed
thirty thousand tons of acetone and asked him to make it.
The chemist had succeeded in making only a few hundred cubic centimeters of acetone at a time by the
fermentation process, did his work in a laboratory and did not think he could even determine what would be
Given carte blanche by Churchill, he began a task that was to take all his strength for two years. It meant
pioneering in a field in which he had had no experience. The first all-scale experiment of the war. Some of the
acetone was manufactured in France, some in India, from rice.
The first American plant for this method of producing acetone was built in Terre Haute.
After the war, Weizmann's patents were taken over by the Commercial Solvents. The government gave
Weizmann a token reward, amounting to about 10 shillings for every ton of acetone produced, a total of 10
thousand pounds.
When Weizmann first made his discovery, it was the first time bacteria had been deliberately sought to
perform a specific industrial labor. His intention was to publish freely the results of his researches as a
contribution to science.
He was more interested in opportunity for congenial work than in making money. But at the suggestion of the
head of the chemical department of Nobel's Explosives Company, he went through the formality of making
application for a patent, and the English patent 4845 was issued to him in March 1915. In 1919, the United
States Government also granted Weizmann a patent. These brought income and fame to him.
Commercial Solvents Corporation made an arrangement with Weizmann to pay him on a royalty basis for
exclusive use of his patent, which expired in 1936. He began to receive payments incredible to one
accustomed to the modest salary of a university instructor or laboratory worker.
Without seeking fame, Weizmann became an international figure. When the British Government wanted to
give him an award of honor for his great contribution, he asked nothing for himself but said he had long been
interested in a plan to have Palestine made a national home for the Jewish people. He had been active in this
movement since 1901.
In consequence of Weizmann's suggestion, the British Foreign Secretary issued the famous Balfour
Declaration which became the charter of the Zionist movement, and at the London conference in 1920,
Weizmann became the head of the whole Zionist organization. Today, Jews throughout the world probably
consider him, along with Einstein, one of the outstanding men of his race now living.
Terre Haute and Commercial Solvents owe much to Weizmann, as the local plant has been an outstanding one
in the community and for Commercial Solvents, the patents have served their purpose. Without them, the
corporation would hardly have been able to develop its markets so rapidly and broadly, nor could it have
carried on research so extensively in industrial bacteriology and chemistry.
In the years following Weizmann's contribution, operations of Commercial Solvents have been so diversified
that products manufactured by the Weizmann process provided only a relatively small part of the company's
After 1922, the Weizmann patent was carried on the books at a valuation of only one dollar. Commercial
Solvents businesses in-eluded specialty and commodity chemicals for industry, agricultural chemicals, animal
health and nutrition products, industrial explosives and carbon blacks.
Its products for human health and animal health and nutrition were developed largely through the company's
expertise in fermentation technology that began in the early days of the corporation's history.
It continued to reflect, both in its allegiance to Terre Haute and its emphasis on fermentation chemistry, its
origins in the discoveries of Chaim Weizmann.
Commercial Solvents: child of World War I
                        Second of a Series By
                        Frances E. Hughes
     Commercial Solvents Corporation was born of intensive World
War I research in explosives and earned distinction as the pioneer
producer of acetone and butanol by fermentation processes.
     It all started with Chaim Weizmann who discovered the method
of making acetone by the fermentation process.
     When Weizmann found that cultures of grain-feeding, spindle
shaped bacterium named Clostridium acetobutylicum Weizmann
produced the required acetone at an unprecedented rate, the British
Government adopted the process and started production at plants
in England, Canada and India.
     After the United States entered the war, the United States Air
Service and the British War Mission purchased the Commercial and
Majestic whiskey distilleries on the Wabash River at Terre Haute
and adapted them for acetone production by the Weismann
     To manage the enterprise, the Joint War Board formed the
Commercial Solvents Corporation of New York. Between May of
1918 and cessation of operations on Armistice Day, 1,500,000
gallons of acetone were produced along with twice this’ amount of
butyl alcohol for which there was then no demand.
     Two members of the British War Mission interested a group of       Office building with distilling tower in background, 1940.
Americans in the commercial possibilities of the Weizmann process.
With the advantages in mind of cheap and readily available raw          mercial Solvents expanded in this direction. Barrel storage
materials, this group purchased the Terre Haute facilities from the     warehouses in Terre Haute, sold after World War I, were
government and acquired exclusive rights under the Weizmann             repurchased and distillation of bourbon and rye whiskies and
patents for peacetime development of the war-born industry.             neutral spirits for the blending of whiskey was started for bulk sale
     Late in 1919, the new company of Commercial Solvents Cor-          to bottlers and rectifiers.
poration of Maryland was incorporated. Production was resumed in             In 1927, the company built a plant at Peoria, III., which made
1920.                                                                   synthetic methanol, and became the first United States company to
     A series of events shifted interest from acetone to the hitherto   market this product.
useless butyl alcohol which had been stored in a huge tank. With             Management of Thermatomic Carbon Company, which made
the advent of prohibition, limited fusel oil supplies (this was a by-   fine grades of carbon black, was assumed by CSC in 1931. In
product of the manufacture of whiskey) shrank to practically            1938, the company acquired majority interest in the carbon
nothing. Then, it was found that butyl acetate and butyl alcohol        company at Sterlington, La.
could be substituted for amyl acetate in lacquers and even had               The Rossville Commercial Alcohol Corporation and its sub-
definite advantages over the previously used product.                   sidiary, American Solvents and Chemical Corporations of California,
     Commercial Solvents then registered the name Butanol, which        were purchased by Commercial Solvents in 1933 as the company
became the accepted name for butyl alcohol. The contents of the         continued to expand. By this purchase, the company acquired an
big butanol storage tank quickly found its way into the new, fast-      important antifree'ie and industrial alcohol business plus additional
drying lacquer which permitted automobiles to be finished better        producing faCilities at Harvey and Westwego, La., and
than ever before in assembly-line operations that required only         Agnew, Calif.            :
minutes instead of days. In 1921, the company's orders for butanol           In 1935, Commercial Solvents and Corn Products Refining
greatly exceeded production.                                            Company formed Commercial Molasses Corporation in Cuba,
                                                                        Puerto Rico and the United States.
                    Whiskey distilling resumes                               During the 1930s, high-pressure synthesis activities of Com- "
                                                                        mercial Solvents were expanded by development of the nitroparaffin
    Some ethyl alcohol had always been made as a by-product of          process which utilizes natural gas. In 1940, an oversized pilot plant at
the Weizmann process and, with the repeal of prohibition, Com-          Peoria went into operation.

Farmers delivering grain· 1923.                                         Trucks unloading corn at old grain elevator - 1946.

      Product expansion parked postwar years
Anti-freeze introduced : In 1937, the company's line of anti-freezes was broadened to include Norway, a
methanol anti-freeze. In 1941, a permanent-type glycol anti-freeze was added under the trade name Peak.
Additional cooling system products were produced to round out the line.
A large new plant at Terre Haute was completed in 1946 to package these specialty products of the
The field of vitamin production was entered by the company in 1938. At Peoria, production of riboflavin
supplements for use by manufacturers in poultry and livestock feeds was started. A new process was
developed and installed at Terre Haute for the production of large quantities of pure crystalline riboflavin by
deep-vat fermentation.
Entering the pharmaceutical field in 1943, the company constructed a large penicillin plant at Terre Haute.
Penicillin on a large scale utilizing the deep fermentation process was first produced by Commercial
Solvents. In 1946, the company became the first to commercially produce crystalline penicillin of high
potency, heat stable and not requiring refrigeration.
Aids war effort : During World War II, the company had built and operated the The Terre Haute plant had
another addition in 1946 when a benzene hexachloride plant was built here. The insecticidal material made
here was sold to manufacturers of insecticides, thus the company was entering another field of production.
, Also in 1946, the company purchased the Pennsylvania Alcohol and Chemical Company at Carlstadt, N.J.,
which produced alcohols, solvents, clear-base nitrocellulose solutions and pharmaceuticals.
Addition of the Carlstadt property increased to 10 the plants owned and operated by Commercial Solvents.
During that year of 1946, sales of the Commercial Solvents Corporation totaled $41,875,000. T. P. Walker
was Chairman of the Board and Henry E. Perry, who lived in Terre Haute for some years, was President.
The Terre Haute plant was producing benzene hexachloride, nitroparaffin derivatives, penicillin, riboflavin,
automotive specialties and potable alcohol.
Maynard C. Wheeler was vice president of production, maintaining his office in Terre Haute.
Capacity production continued for acetone, butanol and ethanol at Peoria, III.; Terre Haute, Harvey, La., and
Agnew, Calif. Plants at Carlstadt, N.J., and Newark, N.J. were distributing solvents and denaturing ethyl
alcohol. The Sterlington, La., plant was producing ammonia and methanol.
                        Third and last in series                                   Work started in 1950 on a new blood volume expander to be called
                       on Commercial Solvents                                 Expandex. Production of this started in the Summer of 1952. Silan, a
                                                                              new synthetic insecticide to control the Mexican bean beetle also was
                        By Frances E. Hughes                                  placed on the market by the company in 1950.
                                                                                   From the Sterlington, La., plant a new hi-density ammonium nitrate
       Terre Haute's plant of Commercial Solvents Corporation got             was introduced by the company in 1951. By that year, there were 2,555
another plant in 1947 when a packaging plant for anti-freeze and other        employees of Commercial Solvents, with 880 of them in Terre Haute.
consumer products was built here.                                                  Sales in 1953 amounted to $51,310,000. There was expansion for
       The company also added another plant at Sterlington, La., that         Terre Haute to include benzene hexachloride, Dilan and antifreeze
year when a plant for production of methanol was completed there.             canning, and large expansions in ammonia and methanol in the
Bacitracin, a new antibiotic, was introduced then by the company.             Sterlington plant.
       Also in 1947, Commercial Solvents purchased preferred and                   The Terre Haute plant began production of a new antibiotic called
common stock in the amount of 65.3 percent of Thermatonic Carbon              Cycloserine for treatment of tuberculosis and urinary tract infections in
Company, By then, the company had five independent businesses:                1955, and the company put a new nitroparaffin plant in Sterlington. Net
industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agriculture (animal feeds,             sales that year were $56,623,700 but employment in the company
fertilizer and insecticide), automotive chemical specialties and potable      dropped to 1993, with 450 of those in Terre Haute.
spirits.                                                                           That year, the company announced a joint venture to construct a
       In 1948, a new animal feed supplement was added to the                 nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer plant at Medicine Hat, Alberta,
agriculture line -- an essential amino acid, choline chloride, produced by    Canada. The company was known as Northwest Nitro-Chemicals, Ltd.
chemical synthesis.                                                           Commercial Solvents owned 42.7 per cent and operated the company,
       Dedication of a new research center, including a pharmacological       which began production during 1956.
laboratory and a microbiological pilot plant, in Terre Haute took place in         Thermatonic Carbon Company merged into the corporation in
1949. A large commercial unit to produce benzene hexachloride for             1957, with Commercial Solvents then owning 100 per cent of the
commercial expansion also was constructed at Terre Haute that year.           company, which was operated as a division. There were plant
Severe infestation of the southern cotton crop had demonstrated the           expansions that year of a new methlyamines plant at Terre Haute; new
need for benzene hexachloride. Clyde Ellis was then local plant               methanol unit and new ammonium nitrate unit at Sterlington.
manager.                                                                           Further expansion was noted in 1958, when Commercial Solvents
       In 1950, a new antibiotic plant was constructed here to produce        acquired Louisiana Gas Production Company, comprised of gas wells,
various products made by bacteriological processes and units were             gathering and transmission lines; and purchased one third interest in
built in Peoria to make vitamin and antibiotic aninial feed supplements.      Petroquimica De Mexico, S.A., to market aqua ammonia in northern
That year, J. Albert Woods, previously President of the Wilson and            Mexico. "
Toomer Fertilizer Company of Jacksonville, Fla., became the new                    Maynard C. Wheeler of Terre Haute was named president in
President of Commercial Solvents.

An aerial phot of north section of plant with view of Fairbanks Park and pool (upper right) taken sometime in 1940s. (Photo by Hartin.)
1959, and that year sales and earnings rose sharply with sales at
       The next year, Commercial Solvents acquired 80 per cent
ownership of Hoffman-Lampis and FIART, S.PA, of Rome, Italy. A new
kind of nitrogen solution for makers of mixed fertilizers, DriSol, was
introduced in March of that year by the company.
       Four feed vitamin companies were acquired by the company in
1961. They were Stabilized Vitamins, Inc., Vitarin Chemical
Manufacturing Company and Astrol Products, Inc., all of Garfield, N.J.,
and Iowa Nutrition Company of Clinton, Iowa.
       Both expansion and sales soared during the next year, when the
company reported 2,301 employees and annual sales of $80,681,000.
Commercial Solvents increased its holdings in Northwest Nitro-
Chemicals, Ltd., to 51 percent from 42.7 percent; acquired major interest
in an Italian drug firm, Instituto Chemioteropico Italiana, S.P.A., of Milan,
Italy, and acquired McWhorter Chemicals, Inc., of Chicago, a developer
and supplier of resin products for paints and protective coatings.
       Since synthetic production of solvents made fermentation less
competitive, the Peoria, III., plant of the company was closed in 1963.
That year, the Terre Haute plant started production of monosodium
glutamate, a flavor enhancer. The company also acquired Industrial
Explosive Division of Olin Mathieson, with plants at Marion, III., Tacoma,
Wash., and Mount Braddock, Pa., which it operated as the United States
Powder Company.
       A second gas company, known as Navarro Gas Production
Company, was purchased by Commercial Solvents in 1965, and the
Terre Haute plant announced building of an advanced design chemical
derivations plant that year. Sales in 1965 were $90,764,000.
                                                                                  Aerial Photo of the Commercial Solvents Complex taken in the early
       That year, Commercial Solvents announced discovery and initial
                                                                                1940s. (Photo by Miner-Billings, Indpls.)
development of a new class of estrogenic chemicals known as the
RALs. More than 300 RAL patent applications were filed in the United            more; Alkaterges, defoamers; Choline Bicarbonate, synthetic waxes
                                                                                and bactericides.
       In 1966, Maynard C. Wheeler became chairman of the board and
                                                                                     Commercial Solvents has long been a part of this community and
his brother, Robert C. Wheeler, became president of the company. The
                                                                                has contributed much over the years to the progress of the city. Now
company announced plans for construction of an ammonia plant capable
                                                                                that it has merged with International Minerals and Chemicals
of producing one thousand tons per day at Sterlington, La., and
                                                                                Corporation, it is anticipated that the same close relationship will
continued to broaden its international animal nutrition operations by
                                                                                continue to exist between the company and community.
serving its Mexican customers through Comsolmex, S. A., a wholly
owned subsidiary in Mexico City.
       The ammonia plant went into production in 1967. In September of
that year, the company purchased for cash the Trojan Powder Company
with operations located in Seiple, Pa.; Wolf Lake, III., and Springville,
Utah. Approximately 800 employees were added with this purchase.
       Ralgro, one of the resocylic acid lactones, was introduced in 1969
as an implant to increase the rate of growth and feed efficiency in cattle.
That year, subsidiaries also were established -- Chemsyna Gmb.H in
Munich, Germany, and Industrial Kern Espanola, SA, in Madrid, Spain.
       In 1970, the company sold 45 percent of Northwest NitroChemical
Ltd., to Canadian interests. During 1972, the company had its best year
in international business in terms of sales volume, profit-ability and
market penetration. Sales in Western Europe alone accounted for
approximately 15 percent of the company's sales. Subsidiaries and
affiliated companies involved were in Italy, Germany and Spain.
       In 1973, the biggest volume of sales was in Ralgro, pharmaceutical
drugs, thermal carbon black, ammonia, ammonium nitrate, specialty
chemicals, pharmaceuticals and animal health products. Manufacturing
operations expanded in Europe, Latin America and the Far East, as well
as in the United States and Canada. That year, William S. Leonhardt
was elected president of the company.
       Commercial Solvents Corporation and International Minerals and
Chemical Corporation merged in March of 1975, making Commercial
Solvents a wholly owned subsidiary of IMC.
       The corporate research is done in Terre Haute with this plant known
as the Corporation Research Center. Here, 125 technical and supportive
personnel conduct basic research in chemical synthesis and
fermentation biochemistry.
       Lee Webb is plant manager and there are now approximately 500
employees at the local plant.
       Products produced include Ralgro, an implant for cattle;

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