Skip to main content

Commercial Process for Producing Calcium Carbide and Acetylene

Location: Eden, NC, USA
Date: 1898
Category:
Creator(s): Willson, Thomas L.

In his search for a more economical way to make aluminum, Canadian inventor Thomas Leopold Willson accidentally discovered the first commercially viable process for making calcium carbide, which is used for production of acetylene gas, at a location in North Carolina. This chance discovery produced a series of products, from improved lighting in remote locations to the synthesis of a host of organic substances.

The plaque commemorating the event reads:

At this site on May 2, 1892, while searching for an economical process to make aluminum, Canadian inventor Thomas L. Willson (1860-1915) accidentally discovered the electric-arc process for preparing calcium carbide, which reacts with water to form acetylene. The first commercial calcium carbide plant, built by local entrepreneur James Turner Morehead (1840-1908), operated here between 1894 and 1896. From this beginning, calcium carbide and acetylene manufacturing spread around the world. Acetylene, used first for lighting homes, railways, mines, and marine buoys and then for oxyacetylene welding, became one of the foundations of the synthetic organic chemicals industry.

Era: 1890-1899
Innovation designated by:
Commercial Process for Producing Calcium Carbide and Acetylene
Photographed at the Den Hartogh Ford museum. Highest gas yield for carbide lamps. Sold by Union Carbide corporation, which was formed in 1898 to consolidate the interests of the Electrogas Company.
Address:
Spray Cotton Mills
413 Church St
Eden, NC, USA

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

Please support this 70-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate

Stay informed - subscribe to our newsletter.
The subscriber's email address.