In the nineteenth century, high explosives like dynamite transformed the American landscape. From railroad construction to mining, explosives paved the way for westward expansion and economic development, allowing enterprising Americans to extract ore from the earth, transport people across the country, and clear land for settlement. Historians have often told this story from the east coast looking west, but in this week’s episode, geographer Seth Lunine reveals the California origins of the high explosives industry. San Francisco companies like Hercules Powder and Giant Powder made California a leader in high explosives from the beginning. Eventually, firms like DuPont bought these companies out, incorporating their innovative products and distinct corporate structure into a consolidating national industry.
Atlas Powder Company records
Atlantic Dynamite Company payroll books
Walter Magee Annette's DuPont advertising envelopes and blotter
Hercules Powder Company calendar illustrations and Laflin and Rand display cards
Hercules Powder: Sporting, Cannon and Mining Powder
Dynamite, Gelatine, Gelatine Dynamite, and Judson Powder
Banner image: Composite dynamite photosgraphs from the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company collection, Hagley Digital Archives
Seth Lunine is a lecturer in Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. In spring 2018, he was an NEH-Hagley Postdoctoral Fellow on Business, Culture, and Society.