This series consists of two subseries corresponding to the two classes of chemicals manufactured at Edison's plants in Silver Lake, New Jersey: (1) Organic Chemical Plants Records; and (2) Edison Chemical Works Records.
The Edison Chemical Works was established around 1905 to manufacture the iron and nickel compounds used by the Edison Storage Battery Co. (ESBCo). Around 1916 it became a division of ESBCo, with Edison's brother-in-law John V. Miller continuing as manager and Charles F. (Frank) Hunter serving as superintendent . Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Edison began constructing additional plants at Silver Lake to manufacture carbolic acid (synthetic phenol), necessary for the production of his phonograph records, as well as other organic chemicals in short supply. Phenol Plant No. 1, owned by Thomas A. Edison, Inc., began operations within six weeks after the commencement of the war. It was managed by H. H. Meno Kammerhoff, head of the Edison Carbolic Division (also known as the Carbolic Acid Division). Phenol Plant No. 2, owned by Thomas A. Edison, Personal, was in production by June 1915.
Three additional chemical plants, owned by Edison personally, were subsequently built at Silver Lake. The Aniline Plant, which opened around the same time as Phenol Plant No. 2, manufactured aniline oil, aniline salt (in small quantities), and paraphenylenediamine. The Amidophenol Plant, on which construction began in June 1916, produced amidophenol (also known as paramidophenol hydrochloride or p-aminophenol). The Bendizine Plant probably opened in November 1916, although it apparently never produced benzidine.
Edison's personal phenol and aniline plants were initially managed by Edgar S. Opdyke, a longtime associate who had previously worked for the Edison Portland Cement Co. After Opdyke returned to EPCCo at the beginning of 1916, he was replaced by Wilfred S. Dowling. In September 1916, James T. Phelan became manager of the Phenol and Aniline plants, along with the new Amidophenol Plant.
In addition to the plants at Silver Lake, Edison constructed two plants to manufacture pure benzol (a by-product of coke used in the manufacture of synthetic phenol), as well as toluol, solvent naphtha, and naphthaline. One was built at the works of the Cambria Steel Co. in Johnstown, Pennsylvania; it began operations in February 1915. The other, a cooperative venture with the Japanese firm of Mitsui & Co., was built at the works of the Woodward Iron Co. in Woodward, Alabama; it began operations in May 1915. Both plants were constructed under the supervision of William H. Mason. The Johnstown plant was managed by John Bacon, Jr.; the Woodward plant, by Claude H. Opdyke.
After the United States entered World War I, Edison's attention shifted to naval research, and he transferred his personal stake in the chemical business to TAE Inc. A Coal Tar Products Division, managed by Kammerhoff, was created, with separate departments for each plant: Carbolic Acid Dept. (Phenol Plant No. 1), Phenol Dept. (Phenol Plant No. 2), Amidophenol Dept., and Paraphenylenediamine Dept. (Aniline Plant). At the same time, the New Jersey Products Co. was established to manage sales. Unwilling to compete on a long-term basis with the established chemical companies, Edison had always intended to supply strategic chemicals only during the war emergency. With the coming of peace, the benzol absorption plants in Alabama and Pennsylvania were sold, and the Silver Lake plants erected during the war were closed or scaled back.
The chemical nomenclature used in the editorial descriptions reflects historical usage. For example, "benzol" is used for the modern term benzene, "toluol" for toluene, "xylol" for xylene, and "naphthaline" for naphthalene. The Edison industries appear to have used the terms "phenol" and "carbolic acid" interchangeably, although distinctions were always made between crude grades of chemicals, on the one hand, and pure (or "commercial") grades, on the other.
It should be noted that the arrangement of the documents in this edition deviates somewhat from the record group at the Edison National Historical Park archives, which is organized according to provenance into a "Plant Records" subgroup and a "Exide Corporation Gift" subgroup. A finding aid is available.
Approximately 5 percent of the documents, covering the years 1913-1927, have been selected. Related items can be found in the "Chemicals" and "Edison Chemical Works" folders in the Edison General File Series and among the chemical contracts in the Harry F. Miller File (Legal Series). The documents appear in the following order:
Organic Chemical Plants [from Plant Records Subgroup]
Edison Chemical Works [from Exide Corporation Gift Subgroup]