February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Herbert Dow

“Crazy Dow” they called him. The 24-year old newcomer to Midland in 1890 was trying to tap into the vast prehistoric saltwater sea lurking beneath Michigan. But it wasn’t salt he was after like everyone else. Herbert Henry Dow was determined to distill bromides used in photography and medicine from the brine.

Even if some townsfolk could appreciate the value of chemicals they were used to evaporating to get salt, no one could comprehend Dow’s methods. He planned to separate bromides from the brine with electric current - at a time when electricity was so foreign that President Harrison refused to touch the newly installed light switched in the White House for fear of electrocution.

Dow, a chemistry teacher at Case Institute, interested three Cleveland businessmen in his venture to extract bromide from brine. Dow first tried in Ohio but was unable to get by his inherent pumping problems. As the Canton Chemical Company was going under Dow was already laying plans to start again in Midland where the bromine-rich brine lay near the surface.

Using his patents as lure Dow attracted new investors to form the Midland Chemical Company in 1892. Dow was put in charge of setting up the plant but the money men quickly tried to ease him out. Relieved of his responsibility at the plant he had built Dow worked on removing chlorine from the waste leftover after the bromine was successfully removed from the brine.

Dow’s new process produced bleach but he couldn’t interest Midland Chemical in its mass production. Back to Cleveland he went for backing - this time to the academic community. The Dow Chemical Company was created on May 18, 1897. Dow perfected his process in Navarre, Ohio and again prepared to return to Midland. He leased the land next to Midland Chemical and bought their waste brine.

Dow envisioned the time when he could produce nine tons of bleach a day.
But he was constantly thwarted by small explosions in the laboratory. Dow and his men worked around the clock in shifts looking for a solution until the problem was solved and production indeed jumped to nine tons daily. Dow then finished his plans to buy out his former partners in Midland Chemical and merge the company with Dow Chemical in 1900.

Herbert Dow had forged the new American chemical industry and now set out to export his products and break the German and British stranglehold on the world market. The foreign suppliers immediately slashed their bleach prices in half, driving all American bleachmakers out of business - except Dow. Dow continued producing bleach at a loss plunging deeper into debt as he fought for market share.

By 1909 the tide was turning and the Europeans began to withdraw from American markets. After the bromide war a real war finished the German chemical industry in the United States. The German naval blockade forced American industry to rely on American chemical producers. After the war Congress protected the chemical industry with high tariffs so the country need never rely on foreign manufacturers again.

By 1920 Dow Chemical sales soared over $4 million a year. The stock price climbed to $500 a share before the market crashed. “Crazy Dow” was now “Doctor Dow” around Midland. From the strange experiments he conducted in a shed on the edge of town he now employed 1600 people in town. Dow hired landscape architects to spruce up the town. When he died in 1930 at the age of 64 the company he started by extracting bromide from brine now had a roster of 500 products.

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