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Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation - Lehman Brothers Collection

Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation

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From small businesses in salt, alkali, and blasting powder, the Olin Mathieson Corporation built a large company producing metals, ammunition, and various chemicals. The company started from two unrelated businesses, both founded in 1892, which merged in 1954. Through expansion and acquisition, the companies grew into the chemical giant now known as the Olin Corporation.

Equitable Powder Company of East Alton, Illinois, was established by Franklin W. Olin as a blasting powder manufacturer for coal mines. Olin founded the Western Cartridge Company in 1898 to sell ammunition, another use of blasting powder. During the First World War, Olin began manufacturing the brass needed for wartime ammunition. The company continued to produce brass and copper alloys after the war. In 1931 Western Cartridge bought the bankrupt Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which had been founded in 1866. The ammunition business was renamed Winchester-Western. During the Second World War, the company produced 15 billion rounds of ammunition. It also introduced the M1 rifle, which became standard issue for American soldiers in the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In 1944 the Olin businesses were reorganized as Olin Industries. The company began expanding in the late 1940s and 1950s via acquisition and diversification into the cellophane, lumber, paper, and power tool industries.

Mathieson Alkali Works was founded to take advantage of natural salt deposits in Saltville, Virginia. Neil Mathieson, a British soda ash and bleaching powder merchant, obtained a charter in Virginia to open an alkali plant in 1892. Mathieson bought out the Holston Salt and Plaster Company and sent his son Thomas and fifty workers to establish the new company. Bleaching powder was the main product. It was manufactured using electrolytic cells that forced chlorine to be absorbed in lime. The company also ran a factory near Niagara Falls, with its abundant electric power supply and nearby salt mines. The company pioneered commercial production of liquid chlorine in 1909. The liquefied chlorine was immediately in demand as a bleaching agent and for industrial use. In 1919 Mathieson began producing ammonia, a byproduct of electrolytic alkali processes, for sale. A form of soluble, dry, stable chlorine known as calcium hypochlorite went on the market in 1928 under the name HTH. In the 1930s Mathieson began shipping caustics for use in rayon manufacture. The company also sold sodium bicarbonate for cooking and industry, alkali for pH control, and dry ice and carbonic gas. In 1934 the company built an ammonium-soda plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Chlorine was in high demand during the Second World War. Mathieson chlorine was used in high-octane jet and tank fuel, in cooling fluids for engines, in plastics and insulation, in explosives and fire extinguishers, in fabrics, and in water-treatment facilities. In 1949 Mathieson expanded to manufacture fertilizers, pesticides, and sulfuric acid for agriculture and industry. It grew in the early 1950s, acquiring the E.R. Squibb & Sons pharmaceutical company in 1952. Squibb was spun off in 1968.

Olin and Mathieson each had sales of $250 million in 1954, the year they merged into the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. The company continued expanding via acquisitions of Blockson Chemical Company (Joliet, Illinois, 1955) and Brown Paper Mill Company (West Monroe, Louisiana, 1955), as well as expansion into aluminum manufacture via the Ormet Corporation, a joint venture with Revere Copper & Brass (1956). Olin Mathieson issued $40 million in convertible bonds in 1958. Sales were $729.7 million by 1962, up from $468 million in 1953 and $601 million in 1958.

The company changed its name to Olin Corporation in 1969. It spun off its chemical businesses as Arch Chemicals in 1998.

Note: Baker Library holds a copy of Fifty Years of Chemical Progress, 1892-1942: The Mathieson Alkali Works, Inc. (call number Baker Old Class GT :612 M43). This long pamphlet was written for Mathieson and contains historical information and photos. At present Olin maintains a website with a full historical overview of the company at www.olin.com.

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