About Our Industry
In the United States, the explosives industry can be traced back to our nation’s roots. In the early 1800’s, black powder was used for both industrial and military applications. On the industrial side, it was used to mine for minerals, break apart rock, clear land to make way for farms, and build infrastructure. In the 1860s, Alfred Nobel, for whom the Nobel Prize was named, invented dynamite, a safer alternative to black powder, and the blasting cap required to make it detonate. The introduction of this new “power tool” helped shape the industrial revolution in the United States.
With dynamite, mines could be dug safer, deeper, faster and more efficiently, making formerly uneconomical deposits profitable. The extracted tonnage of copper, coal and iron ore increased by a hundred-fold. Quarrying made it possible to extract materials like limestone, cement and concrete which became common building products, replacing bricks and cobblestones. Harbors were deepened and widened, railways and roads pushed into the wilds and dams were built creating enough electricity to pave the way into the 20th Century. America found in dynamite, a new set of muscle that could be applied to a whole new array of industries, including oil and gas exploration, power generation, mineral mining and pipeline, tunnel, and highway construction.
In 1863, German Chemist Julius Wilbrand discovered Trinitrotoluene (TNT). Originally used as a yellow dye, it’s potential use as an explosive was not discovered until 1891 by another German chemist named Carl Häussermann. Due to its relative insensitivities, TNT was deemed to be a safer alternative to dynamite. TNT is still used in certain applications today thanks to its unique properties.
In the 1940’s, World War II saw the introduction of new high explosives RDX (hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro 1,3,5-triazine), HMX (cyclotetramethylene-tetranitramine), and PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate). All three of these products are still in use today.
By the 1950’s, the commercial explosives industry began a shift to ammonium nitrate (AN) based products. Because of its properties as a stable product, AN is seen as a safer alternative to other explosives. AN itself is not an explosive but an oxidizer. It becomes a blasting agent when mixed with fuel oil to create Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO). Today, more than 80 percent of explosives consumed in the United States are AN-based.
The commercial explosives industry continues to invest in the development of newer, safer and more efficient products. See below for examples of how explosives make today’s modern society possible.
Few people today give credit to the essential role that commercial explosives play in our everyday lives.