Solvay Process Company


Solvay Process Company

The Solvay Process Company was a pioneer chemical industry of the United States, a major employer in central New York, and origin of the Village of Solvay, New York.

The Solvay Process Company was a joint venture between the inventing chemists, Belgians Ernest and Alfred Solvay, who owned the patent rights to the Solvay process, and Americans William B. Cogswell (1834–1921) and Rowland Hazard II (1829–1898). Cogswell, a former resident of Syracuse, New York, was an engineer who was familiar with the natural resources of Central New York that would be available for use in process. He was employed as a mining engineer by the one of the Hazard family businesses at the time. Knowing that American industry was importing soda ash from Europe, Cogswell envisioned utilizing the process in America, and in Solvay, New York. After several refusals, Cogswell finally secured American rights to the Solvay process. He required capital to build a production facility, which he obtained form Roland Hazard, II scion of an old Rhode Island family. Roland Hazard was the major American investor in the company and its first president. His son, Frederick Rowland Hazard, was an initial officer and subsequently became president. William B. Cogswell served as vice-president. Frederick's brother Rowland G. Hazard II (1855–1918) followed Cogswell as vice-president, serving many years in that role. The Hazard Family is subject of a separate article.

The Solvay brothers in Belgium had a one-third interest in the company. To produce soda ash, the Solvay process requires salt brine and limestone, both of which were readily secured in this area. Wells in the Town of Tully provided salt brine, pumped through a pipeline to Solvay. A remarkable elevated conveyor, with buckets suspended from a cable loop, passed by means of a tunnel through a hill [Northeast portal is at coordinates coord|43.05188|-76.21742|type:landmark|name=Northeast portal] [Southwest portal is at coordinates coord|43.05009|-76.21925|type:landmark|name=Southwest portal] [Tunnel is at coordinates coord|43.05097|-76.21840|type:landmark|name=Tunnel] to deliver stone from company quarries at Split Rock, in the Town of Onondaga, about four miles to the south. The Erie Canal passed through the Solvay Process plant, providing water transport, as did subsequently Onondaga Lake, connected to the New York State canal system. Large marshlands around the lake serve as a place for disposal of sludge from the process, leaving extensive "waste beds." These have contributed to the grave pollution of the lake. The main line of the New York Central Railroad also passed through company property, providing transport. The village grew around the Solvay Process plant. The Church and Dwight Company, producer of famous "Arm and Hammer Baking Soda," which used material from the Solvay Process, built a production facility nearby.

The Hazard family invested in an affiliated business, the Semet-Solvay Company, formed in1895. Louis Semet, a relative of Ernest and Alfred Solvay had developed with the brothers a coke oven designed to recover valuable materials formerly wasted in the coking process. In 1892 the Solvay Process Company built the first of the ovens in America, forming the Semet-Solvay Company three years later to build and operate them. Coke plants were located in Ashland, Kentucky; Buffalo, New York; Detroit, Michigan; and Ironton, Ohio. Semet-Solvay operated its own mines in West Virginia, providing much of its coal supply.

Both the Solvay Process Company and the Semet-Solvay Company in 1920 were absorbed by the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation, a merger promoted by chemist William Nichols and financier Eugene Meyer. William Henry Nichols had started a small suphuric acid plant in 1870 and by 1900 he controlled several chemical companies. Nichols was a founding member of the American Chemical Society in 1876, serving twice as its president, and is memorialized by the Nichols Medal for chemical research. Eugene Meyer, a financial genius, was publisher of the "Washington Post." Nichols, having observer American dependence on German chemical production, hence vulnerability during World War I, envisioned consolidation and recapitalization of the American chemical industry. He shared this concept with Eugene Meyer, who had the financial capability to realize such a vision. Formed in 1920 and based in New York City, the Allied Chemical and Dye corporation combined five chemical companies. When proposed, the promoters assured the companies that each would retain autonomy of operations. The Hazard family soon recognized default on agreement with the promoters of the holding company. The family controlled not merely the Solvay Process Company, but also the second of the five companies merged into the new corporation, the Semet-Solvay Company (founded 1894) that manufacturing coke and its by-products.

Eugene Meyer persuaded Orlando Weber to take charge of Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation. An inscrutable man of mystery, Weber initiated an autocratic regime (1920–1935) which was successful financially, but at the cost of reversing previously agreed policy about company autonomy. The family attempted to gain a controlling interest by quietly acquiring large amounts of stock in the corporation. They failed however to return operations of the plant to local control, or to enable reemployment of personnel terminated by the new corporation, contrary to agreement with the Hazard family. Members of the family remained in Solvay and subsequently in Syracuse and Cazenovia, New York. The family has been notable for active participation in reform movements and for philanthropy, such major gifts to the Syracuse Hospital for Women and Children, which became Memorial Hospital, now Crouse-Irving Hospital.

William B. Cogswell, vice-president of the Solvay Process Company, resided in a landmark mansion (1906) designed by Syracuse architect James A. Randall at 1234 James Street in Syracuse until Cogswell died in 1921. The large property became the residence of Roman Catholic bishops of the Diocese of Syracuse but was destroyed by fire

The Solvay Process Company plant at Solvay, New York closed in 1985 and was demolished.

The Hazard family

Members of the Hazard family were among the first settlers of the State of Rhode Island. The family fortune derived largely from its textile manufacturing business ast Peace Dale, but also from mining and railroad as well has chemical interests. Hazards have been known through generations for many contributions. Caroline Hazard, sister of Frederick R. Hazard, was a prolific author, artist, and president of Wellesley College, 1899–1910. Their grandfather, Rowland Gibson Hazard (1819–1888), was not merely a successful business man, but a philosophical writer who corresponded with John Stuart Mill and was a friend of William Ellery Channing, founder of Unitarianism. The family in Central New York was long active in May Memorial Unitarian Church, Syracuse, which linked many social activists. The family has been known especially for social concerns such as abolition of slavery, treatment of the insane and of alcoholics, as well for innovative employee programs. Guild Hall, built in 1890 by the Solvay Process Company to serve as a community center, providing the first public library facility which served the high school as well. Guild Hall was the first of five such buildings the company constructed for health and recreational use of the entire community. The family's Peace Dale [textile] Manufacturing Company was one of the first in America (1878) to distribute a percentage of profits to employees. Mrs. Frederick R. Hazard (Dora G. Sedgwick) of Solvay was daughter of the prominent Syracuse lawyer and abolitionist Charles B. Sedgwick. The Sedgwick residence was a landmark designed by imporatant American architect, Alexander Jackson Davis. Dora Sedgwick Hazard was an early American proponent of family planning, an organizer in Central New York of the National Women's Party, and of programs for African-American young people (which evolved into the Dunbar Center). Mrs. Hazard founded the Solvay Guild in 1887 and was instrumental in establishing its many local programs in areas of education, public health medical and dental clinics, day care center, sewing, cooking and Americanization classes, and the first kindergartens not merely in Solvay but in Syracuse. The Hazard Branch of the Onondaga County Library System contains a memorial plaque recalling the public service of Dora Sedgwick Hazard.

The Hazard family has been culturally oriented. Historic artifacts collected by Roland G. Hazard II (1855–1918) became the Museum of Primitive Culture Records at Peace Dale, The family commissioned architects to design their projects. Douglas Smyth designed the landmark company headquarters (1888) and probably designed nearby Guild Hall (1890), both of which are now razed. The Hazards contributed land and resources for the Village of Solvay to grow. The residential neighborhood of Piercefield was developed as Upland Farm, the Hazard estate, The landmark Hazard mansion, designed by the nationally distinguished architect, Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848–1913), unfortunately was demolished about the time of World War II. Silsbee also designed a fine residence and carriage house for Solvay Process Company engineer Edward N. Trump (1889), extant at 1912 West Genesee Stree, Syracuse. Trump was one of the first company engineers, hired in 1882. Silsbee is well known for his landmark Syracuse Savings Bank building on Clinton Square, Syracuse. After moving his practice to Chicago, Silsbee employed the major American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Two architecturally notable homes of Hazard daughters remain nearby in Piercefield, the Edwin Witherby House, c. 1912 (515 North Orchard Road) and the Martin Knapp House, 1910 (404 Piercefield Drive) Taylor and Bonta, architects, New York City. They were also architects of the University Club (extant, Washington Street on Fayette Park) and YWCA building (East Onondaga Street, demolished), both in Syracuse, New York.

Dorothy Hazard and husband Edwin Chaplin Witherby had three children: Constance Witherby, Thomas Hazard Witherby, and Frederick Roland Hazard Witherby, all born at Solvay. Edwin Chaplin Witherby died at Boston. Dorothy Hazard remarried at Narragansett, Rhode Island and with second husband, Stephen Foster Hunt, had a daughter, Deborah Hunt. Sarah Hazard and husband Martin Hobart Knapp moved from Solvay to Cazenovia, New York There were four Knapp children: Robert Hazard Knapp, Peter Hobart Knapp, Sarah Knapp Auchincloss, Judith Knapp. Hazard family houses at Upland Farm, Piercefield in the Village of Solvay appear in that article. .

References

* [http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss483sg43.htm Solvay Process Company Records]
* [http://p2.www.britannica.com/eb/article-9005813/AlliedSignal#276062.hook AlliedSignal History]
* [http://archives.syr.edu/arch/faculty/hardcon.htm Solvay Process History]
* [http://www.library.ohiou.edu/archives/local/series/lawco01.html Company Archives]
* [http://www.clrc.org/solvay/spblueprints.htm Building blueprints, Solvay Library]

External links

* Solvay Process Company photographs, Historic American Engineering Record [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/hhhtml/hhTitles306.html]
* William B. Cogswell [http://www.rpi.edu/about/hof/cogswell.html]
* Onondaga Lake Pollution History [http://www.onlakepartners.org/p1201.html]
* Onondage Lake, NYS DEC [http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/reg7/onlake/]
* Honeywell and Onondaga Lake [http://www.onondaganation.org/news.honeywelltimeline.html]
* David M. Kiefer. "Soda Ash, Solvay Style." "Today's Chemist", February 2002 [http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/tcaw/11/i02/html/02chemchron.html]


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