We tend to think of some things as being relatively new. I’m thinking of the gas and oil extraction technique of fracturing, or fracking.  In the 1884 third edition of The Modern High Explosives, Nitro-glycerine and Dynamite by Manuel Eissler, p 311, there is a mention of the practice of exploding nitroglycerine charges at the bottom of oil and water wells to renew or increase the flow. The author states that this is a popular technique in Pennsylvania at the time of writing.

On p 318 of the same book, Eissler describes the economics of blasting stumps. In general, the process of removing stumps was called “grubbing”. Enterprising fellows knowledgeable with nitroglycerine took little time in applying the explosive power of this oily liquid to clearing the land of stumps.  

Eissler describes the economics of explosive grubbing as follows:  Three pounds of No. 1 dynamite cost $1.50, labor cost 20 cents per hour, 25 ft of fuse cost 1 cent per foot, and 17 percussion caps cost 1 cent each.  Grubbing 17 oak stumps cost $22.52 with 99 man hours for chopping and piling the pieces.  Grubbing with an axe took 142 man hours and cost $28.40.  No. 1 dynamite was comprised of 75 % nitroglycerin and 25 % absorbent.

Bertholet’s discovery of potassium chlorate (oxygenized muriate of potash) happened in 1785. He observed

“that it appears to include the elements of thunder in its particles; and Nature seems to have concentrated all her powers of detonation, fulmination, and inflammation in this terrible compound”. 

Eissler goes on to say that attempts to prepare gunpowder or blasting powder with potassium chlorate lead only to loss of life and limb for the luckless experimenters with this compound.  Two of Bertholet’s artisans employed to do experiments with this material were killed in 1788.  The hazards associated with both manufacture and use of compositions of potassium chlorate were too great to allow this substance to see much commercial application by the 1880’s.

Advertisements