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Twentieth-Century Business Archives

Brush Beryllium Co. - Lehman Brothers Collection

Brush Beryllium Co.

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The Brush Beryllium Company was incorporated in Ohio in 1931 under the leadership of Charles Baldwin Sawyer. Upon its formation, the company continued the research and development program that had been initiated by the Brush Laboratories Company in 1921, researching the production and commercialization of beryllium. Sawyer and fellow scientist Bengt Kjellgren developed a process of extracting beryllium from beryl ore by thermal shock techniques. Operating in a small pilot plant in Cleveland until 1935, the company then developed manufacturing operations in a plant in Lorain, Ohio.

The company was engaged primarily in the production and sale of beryllium, its alloys and compounds, and beryllium copper. The company produced and sold two major categories of beryllium products: beryllium copper and beryllium metal products. The company also manufactured and sold beryllium oxide and certain other beryllium compounds and alloys and performed research and development, primarily for the U. S. government and its contractors. Additionally, the company also engaged in the re-rolling of stainless steel, nickel, silver, brass, and phosphor bronze. The company's main customers were domestic and foreign manufacturers, whose purchases were evenly divided between beryllium copper products and fabricated beryllium metal shapes, and agencies in the U. S. government. Beryllium contributed to the development of atomic energy and high-speed aircraft.

During World War II the Lorain plant was expanded under a Defense Plant Corporation contract, primarily for the production of beryllium copper. The company also produced beryllium metal, initially for the Manhattan District and later for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In 1948 a fire destroyed the Lorain plant and the company discontinued operating at that location. The plant had contracted with the Department of Energy to produce beryllium for nuclear weapons.

In 1949 Brush signed a contract with the AEC to operate a government-owned plant in Luckey, Ohio. The facility was used to produce beryllium for the government in accordance with government specifications and requirements. The plant did not begin operation immediately because controls were to be installed to reduce beryllium exposures to the levels required by the AEC. Since this plant became devoted to the production of beryllium metal, the company was unable to resume any significant production of beryllium copper materials until early in 1953 when construction of another plant provided additional space.

In the fall of 1956 the company began the construction of a beryllium metal extractor plant at Elmore, which was completed in early 1958 at a cost of approximately $4,600,000. In December 1957, the company acquired the assets of Penn Precision Products, Inc.

In the 1940s the relationship between beryllium and health effects was first hypothesized. In 1943 the medical debate in the United States began about a lung problem arising in facilities using beryllium materials. The U. S. Public Health Safety Service published an article stating that beryllium was inert and non-toxic, refuting claims by Dr. Howard S. Van Ordstrand. Brush subscribed to Van Ordstrand's view and began cooperating with researchers to determine causes of the problem; this ultimately led to control standards to reduce exposure. In May 1948, medical officials with the Atomic Energy Commission, which ran the weapons program, reported that "health hazards in the beryllium plants of AEC contractors" were severe enough to consider a complete shutdown of beryllium operations while a thorough solution to the health problem was being sought. The idea was dismissed and records from that era show that some of the worst beryllium exposures occurred at Brush Beryllium plants in Cleveland, Loraine and Luckey, Ohio. The debate and controversy over beryllium went on for decades.

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