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Revisiting the first cracker, in West Virginia, as shale rekindles interest

12:34 PM MDT | March 24, 2014 | —Lindsay Frost

The discovery of a cheaper and more efficient way to directly produce ethylene by George Curme in 1919 laid the foundation of the modern chemical industry. Applications for ethylene quickly spread beyond what had been originally conceived, including various plastic products used in several growing industries. The new technology of steam cracking from hydrocarbons to produce ethylene, and its derivatives—including ethylene glycol (EG), ethylene oxide (EO), and ethyl alcohol—would fuel the rise of US industry. It started with the first major commercial...

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Comments (7) for Revisiting the first cracker, in West Virginia, as shale rekindles interest
I really enjoyed this historical perspective and very happy to learn Warren Woomer is still active in our industry and as a historian.
Posted by Steve McClung on Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 12:26 PM
West Virginia is a great state and Union Carbide was a great company! I am very excited to see we have a good chance to re-create a large chemical industry in the area! I hope it is a big success!
Posted by walt rosemund on Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 12:51 PM
And Dow Chemical, now owner of Union Carbide Division.
Posted by Jon M. Mike Gaston on Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 02:36 PM
This is a great story and a great read - thanks for putting together. One correction: one of the companies that merged into Union Carbide in 1917 was the Linde Air Products company. It was founded in 1907 in Buffalo NY licensing technology (and the name in N and S America) from Karl von Linde, who discovered the cryogenic mass separation of oxygen from air. It's first main drive was not ethylene but street lighting and arc welding, the latter also invented by UCC. The company became the Linde Division of Union Carbide and continued under different names until it was spun off in 1992 as Praxair. The name Linde was sold back to Linde's company in 1998 and held for 10 years, at which time Linde re-introduced the name back in the Americas.
Posted by Chrstian Lenci on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @ 08:24 AM
Having spend many years with Union Carbide up until Dow bought us, I found this to be a great story that brought back memories of a fine company. One piece of history I found interesting and was not completely mentioned here was Carbide's development or discovery of Antifreeze. When I joined in 1971, there was a Carbide "history book" they published internally. In it, they specifically indicated that back in (I think the 30s) one of the Carbiders noticed that where a certain by-product effluent was dumped into the Kanawha River, the river never froze in the winter. Upon investigation, the effluent was determined to be ethylene glycol and it's importance was immediately recognized eventually becoming Prestone Antifreeze. An interesting sidelight to this is by the time Dow purchased Carbide, the internal history publication no longer mentioned this or anything being discharged into the river.
Posted by Bob Page on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 @ 03:51 PM
Great historical discussion along with prospective uses of the same natural resources.
Posted by Susan Hilger on Thursday, March 27, 2014 @ 08:48 PM
Good article! I noticed that you have a couple of (small) pictures of the original Clendenin site. Do you have those in larger format, and would you be willing to share them with me?
Posted by Bill Henstock on Monday, November 16, 2015 @ 10:40 AM

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