These documents relate to the production of organic chemicals from coal by-products during World War I. The manufacture of Edison's phonograph records depended on phenolic resin, an early kind of plastic. When imports of phenol (also called carbolic acid) ceased with the outbreak of war in August 1914, Edison quickly built a plant at his chemical works in Silver Lake, New Jersey, to make synthetic phenol through the benzol sulfonation-alkaline fusion process.
To meet his need for large quantities of benzol, Edison also built two gas absorption plants in association with the coking operations of the Cambria Steel Co. and the Woodward Iron Co. at coal mines in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and Woodward, Alabama. The reduction of coal in coke ovens released valuable by-products such as benzol and toluol, which Edison distilled and sold. The toluol went to various foreign governments and munitions companies for use in trinitrotoluene (TNT), while some of the surplus phenol made at Silver Lake was sold to the U.S. military for use in picric acid, another explosive. Edison constructed additional plants at Silver Lake to convert benzol into other useful chemicals such as aniline and paraphenylenediamine for his own requirements and for limited sale to industries hard-hit by wartime shortages.
The records are arranged according to individual plant or division. However, these documents do not constitute the complete business records of those plants and divisions. In most cases, only documents from a narrow date range have survived. The selected documents relate directly to Edison's personal involvement or to his personal projects. Along with correspondence and a few financial and accounting documents, the selected items include representative examples of Edison marginalia appearing on the routine daily production reports compiled by each plant.
The records appear in the following order: (1) General Operations; (2) Amidophenol Division; (3) Aniline Division; (4) Carbolic Acid Division; (5) Coal Tar Products Division; (6) Phenol Division; (7) Johnstown Benzol Plant; (8) Woodward Benzol Plant.
Para Plant of Edison International Corp. This folder contains a memorandum from 1918. Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park.