The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910-1930

The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910-1930

The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910-1930

The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910-1930

Synopsis

Prior to 1914, Germany dominated the worldwide production of synthetic organic dyes and pharmaceuticals like aspirin. When World War I disrupted the supply of German chemicals to the United States, American entrepreneurs responded to the shortages and high prices by trying to manufacture chemicals domestically. Learning the complex science and industry, however, posed a serious challenge. This book explains how the United States built a synthetic organic chemicals industry in World War I and the 1920s. Kathryn Steen argues that Americans' intense anti-German sentiment in World War I helped to forge a concentrated effort among firms, the federal government, and universities to make the United States independent of "foreign chemicals."

Besides mobilization efforts to make high explosives and war gases, federal policies included protective tariffs, gathering and publishing market information, and, most dramatically, confiscation of German-owned chemical subsidiaries and patents. Meanwhile, firms and universities worked hard to develop scientific and manufacturing expertise. Against a backdrop of hostilities and intrigue, Steen shows how chemicals were deeply entwined with national and international politics and policy during the war and subsequent isolationism of the turbulent early twentieth century.

Excerpt

Late in the evening of July 9,1916, the German U-boat Deutschland successfully executed its mission and docked at a warehouse designed especially for the submarine. Submarine warfare in World War I posed a new and troubling menace to military and commercial shipping, and the Germans became adept at exploiting the strategic advantages of the underwater boat. in May 1915, a German U-boat infamously sank the British passenger liner Lusitania, which killed 1,200 people and made Americans—still neutral in the European war—more decidedly hostile to Germany. the Deutschland’s voyage stunned Americans because its destination was Baltimore, and it carried no torpedoes and very few weapons of any kind. Despite Americans’ growing mistrust of Germany, the wartime oddity provoked widespread admiration and curiosity in the United States, creating heroes of the captain and crew. German Americans in Baltimore, noted one news report, celebrated by singing “Deutschland Unter Alles” But what kind of cargo could lead the Germans to expend precious resources during war, not only to design and build this unique submarine but also to dispatch it through the British blockade and across the entire Atlantic Ocean? the New York Times, one of the saner commentators amid the wild speculating, suggested the Deutschland delivered financial securities, a message from Kaiser Wilhelm ii to President Woodrow Wilson, and maybe even important diplomatic passengers. Other rumors said the submarine’s return cargo included gold and silver. As it turned out, the cargo became one of the most hotly contested material assets during World War I and the 1920s—fought over in the war, during the peace and reparations negotiations, in the U.S. Congress and European parliaments, and on the international markets. Political and strategic concerns over these goods shaped American policymaking in all three branches of government, generating policies as extraordinary as confiscation by the U.S. government. the cargo? Synthetic dyes.

Synthetic dyes were the most prominent set of products within a larger and growing synthetic organic chemicals industry, and the Deutschland . . .

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