[This note covers all of the "Chemicals" folders for 1915.]
These folders contain correspondence, financial statements, contracts, technical notes and reports, and other documents relating to Edison's expanded production of organic chemicals in the year following the outbreak of World War I. Included are items pertaining to the design, construction, and operation of plants to extract benzol, toluol, and other valuable chemicals from coke oven gases. These plants were established in cooperation with the Cambria Steel Co. in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the Woodward Iron Co. in Woodward, Alabama, and the Dominion Steel Corp. in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Also included are documents regarding the establishment of several new chemical plants at Silver Lake, New Jersey, to convert benzol into phenol (carbolic acid), aniline, paraphenylenediamine, and other chemicals that could no longer be imported from Europe.
The subjects covered in the documents include shipments of benzol and toluol from the coal plants to West Orange and to other buyers, the sale of toluol to the British government to make trinitrotoluene (TNT), and the opening of a second phenol plant at Silver Lake to supply the U.S. military with chemicals for the manufacture of picric acid, a derivative of phenol used in explosives. There are also references to methods of aniline synthesis, railroad freight rates and customs duties, labor issues, and shortages of raw materials, as well as undated notes and draft letters by Edison relating to plant design, specifications, and operation.
Edison employees who appear in these documents include engineer William H. Mason, who supervised the installation of the benzol plants at Johnstown and Woodward; John Bacon, Jr., and Claude H. Opdyke, who managed the plants for Edison; Edison's personal assistant William H. Meadowcroft, who oversaw most of the chemical sales; chief engineer Miller Reese Hutchison; Silver Lake chemical engineers H. H. Meno Kammerhoff and Peter C. Christensen; and traffic manager John T. Rogers. Among the other correspondents are Shunzo Takaki of Mitsui & Co., which helped finance Edison's benzol plants and sold the products in Japan and Russia; C. L. Campbell of the E. B. Badger Co., which supplied distillation apparatus; steel company executives R. H. Banister, J. H. Plummer, and Edwin E. Slick; John D. Rockefeller and Henry C. Folger of the Standard Oil Co.; sales brokers Stanley Doggett and Robert T. Lozier; and representatives of numerous other companies with which Edison had a business or technical relationship, including Bayer, Du Pont, Merck, Monsanto, J.P. Morgan, Squibb, and firms in the rubber and gas industries. There is also correspondence with military officers, including Rear Admiral Samuel McGowan, paymaster general of the U.S. Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Odus C. Horney of Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey; and Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss of the Department of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance.
Approximately 20 percent of the documents have been selected. The selected items relate primarily to Edison's personal involvement in the chemical projects. Much of the unselected material consists of routine business correspondence to and from Meadowcroft, including requests for price quotes on benzol, phenol, toluol, and other chemicals, most of which received standard replies stating that all quantities had already been sold. Other unselected items include proposals for business arrangements with various companies that were ultimately not pursued, follow-up material on topics already represented in the selected documents, and duplicates of correspondence found in the General Letterbook Series. Also unselected are letters between engineers on specific technical details not involving Edison; internal shipping documents concerning drums and tank cars; monthly aniline sales summaries; and unsolicited and unanswered requests for information. Marginal notations by Edison on incoming correspondence that merely repeat the information in the selected documents have also been excluded, for example in the case of the numerous inquiries from representatives of the textile, fur dyeing, and rubber industries.
Related material can be found in the Harry F. Miller File -- Chemical Correspondence and Contracts (Legal Series) and in the Chemical Production Records (Special Collections Series). Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.