Herbert Henry Dow Biography (1866-1930)


Dow was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, on February 26, 1866. His parents were Americans who had moved to Canada when his father could no longer findwork in their native New England. Only a few months after Herbert's birth, the Dow family moved back to the United States. They settled first in Derby, Connecticut, then moved on to Cleveland, where Herbert's father got a job at the Chisholm Steel Shovel works. In 1884, Dow entered the Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University). He majored in chemistry andbecame especially interested in the study of brines, a form of salt water. During his senior year at Case, he presented a paper on brines before the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

After graduation in 1888, Dow began to work on methods for extracting brominefrom brine by electrolytic methods. He received his first patent on the topic in 1889 and decided to open a plant based on the process. The plant, located in Canton, Ohio, had an impressive name--The Canton Chemical Company--but consisted of little more than an ill-equipped shed. Less than a year after itopened the business failed and Dow looked for a new location where he could begin again.

The site he selected was Midland, Michigan at the base of the state's " thumb" region. One reason for this choice was the presence of enormous undergroundreserves of brine beneath the eastern part of the state. The brine, a remnant of an ancient sea, constituted an essentially limitless supply of raw material for Dow's new process.

In August 1890, Dow moved to Midland and opened his new company, The MidlandChemical Company. At first his neighbors were puzzled by the newcomer's business, and they referred to him behind his back as "Crazy Dow." However, less than six months later Dow's plant was in operation producing bromine from brine by using electric current.

Dow rapidly proved that he was a chemical genius, soon developing methods forproducing chlorine, magnesium, and other commercially valuable chemicals from brine.

He was not as successful at first as a businessman, however. At one point, helost control of his own patents and of the company he had founded. By 1897,however, his business skills had improved and he founded another new company,the Dow Chemical Company. Dow Chemical has since grown to become one of thehalf dozen largest chemical companies in the United States. The business is now a multimillion dollar operation that produces hundreds of different chemicals, including drugs, agricultural chemicals, plastics, dyes, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, rubber, industrial solvents, and the chlorine-and bromine-based products with which the company started.

Dow became ill in September 1930 and entered the Mayo Brothers Clinic at Rochester, Minnesota. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and failed rapidly. He died at the Clinic on October 15, 1930.

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