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Subject:  Hooker Chemical Company Date:  4/20/2011  4:12 PM
Author:  pauleckler Number:  625 of 803

“Salt & Water, Power & People: A Short History of Hooker Electrochemical Co.,” by Robert E. Thomas, Hooker Chemical Co., Niagara Falls, NY, 1955. This 109-page hardback tells the story of Hooker Chemical Co., best known for burying drums of waste chemicals in Love Canal in Niagara Falls, which became a major environmental site in the 1970s. Hooker Chemical was founded in 1903, as The Development and Funding Company by Elon Hooker, of Rochester, NY. He was from an old line New England family and had degrees in civil engineering from the University of Rochester and Cornell. A search for a suitable business for investment identified the Townsend cell, which converted salt to sodium hydroxide/caustic soda/lye, chlorine, and hydrogen by electrolysis. The chlorine was sold for “sanitation” (and chlorination of drinking water) and bleaching as chlorinated lime. (This was before the development of steel cylinders allowing shipment of liquid chlorine.)

Electrolysis of salt had been known since 1807, but the Townsend cell was the first practical cell. It used an asbestos diaphragm to keep the products from recombining in the cell. Hooker called in experts to assist in testing and improving the cell. Elmer Sperry, founder of Sperry Electric, and Leo Baekland, inventor of Bakelite (and Velox photographic paper) consulted for the company. After a cell was successfully tested at a rented site in Brooklyn, NY, Niagara Falls was selected as a plant site, taking advantage of low cost electricity from the Niagara Falls power project (completed in 1895), nearby salt mines (within 60 miles), and abundant water from the Niagara River. Syracuse, NY is the historic salt mining site in North America (known to the Indians and French Jesuits from 1654), but salt mines were also in Wyoming Co., NY near Mt. Morris, and salt deposits are known to extend from Albany, NY, through Detroit and Saginaw, MI, and on to Iowa and Wisconsin.

In the early days, lime was chlorinated by passing chlorine gas over slaked lime in room sized chambers. Workers in crude gas masks worked the lime to complete the conversion. Chlorinated lime had limited storage life. Hence, availability of caustic soda was limited by sales of chlorine derivatives. One of the early ones was chlorobenzene, which was converted to phenol and picric acid for use as an alternative to coal tar derived TNT in World War I. Later solvents like trichloroethylene were sold for metal degreasing and dry cleaning by subsidiary Detrex followed. (Hooker is the third American chemical company to make phenol during World War I.. Others included Dow and Monsanto.) Development of diaphragm cells also continued. Hooker technology was licensed to others. In 1918, Hooker formed a company to used its hydrogen co-product to hydrogenate vegetable oils. Additional chlorine derivatives included sulfur chloride and sodium chlorate.

In 1922, Hooker bought S. Wander & Sons and undertook retail sales of lye and chlorinated lime. The venture was sold in 1927. A West Coast chlor-alkali plant was built in Tacoma, WA in 1929. Later products included sodium sulfide, sodium sulfhydrate, sodium tetrasulfide, and aluminum chloride. In World War II, Hooker was a leading supplier of dodecyl mercaptan for the synthetic rubber program. Other wartime products included arsenic trichloride, thionyl chloride, and hexachlorobenzene. In the era of plastics, Hooker developed Hetron epoxy vinyl ester resins, and in 1955 acquired the Durez phenolic resins business.

The book ends in 1955, as Hooker is about to acquire Niagara Alkali Co. Later Hooker was acquired by Occidental Petroleum where it continues as part of Occidental Chemicals. Vinyl chloride monomer and PVC/vinyl plastic are now major chlorine derivatives. Occidental lists them as products, but they are not mentioned in the Hooker book.

Chemical historians will find this book of interest. Photos. No index. No references.
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