Today, We Produce to Destroy


By THEODORE G. JOSLIN, Director, Public Relations Department, E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

Delivered before the War-Time New England Sales Management Conference, Boston, January 8, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 276-280.

WE live in desperate times. Our minds are on events chiefly beyond our shores—on the success of our arms, the welfare of your sons, and mine. We are apt to be impatient with all but vitally essential things.

It is of one of these—the American chemical industry—that I have been asked to speak to you. In the main, this industry is a source of raw materials rather than finished goods. Only rarely does it emerge from its usual place backstage to appear in the spotlight. Ships, planes, tanks and guns command the popular eye today and capture the imagination.

Yet, lacking a chemical industry we would stand disarmed. Not a plane would fly, not a tank would move, not a gun would fire. Our armies would be helpless, if fighting at all.

Everything that moves to the battle-front in modern war, whether by land, sea or air, has the single objective of bringing chemicals into action against the enemy, because all explosives are chemicals. And so, too, are the high-test fuels that drive the motors, the tires that grind under the motor transport trains, even the dyes that color the uniforms, and the medicines that help heal the sick. The airplane, while a machine, is equally a composite chemical triumph expressed in metals, plastics and liquids.

In peace, chemicals are the life blood of all industry; we are doubly dependent on them in modern war. In war, a

laboratory may have the striking force of an army. That fact was perhaps the greatest lesson learned by the United States in the First World War. Today, we can thank God that the lesson was learned in time for practical application in this titanic struggle.

If you who are historically inclined were to go back to the records of more than 300 years, you would find that in the autumn of 1635 a curious establishment was opened in the Towne of Boston. The proprietor was John Winthrop, the Younger. The place was an odd combination of druggist's shop, metallurgist's workroom, chemist's laboratory and alchemist's den. Within it were made experimental batches of alum and saltpeter. From it radiated a series of primitive industrial enterprises designed to provide the colonists with chemicals and medicines, and to exploit the mineral resources of New England.

Alum was used in curing fur pelts, an important industry of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Saltpeter was the most costly and the most essential ingredient of gunpowder, a necessity both for food and defense against the Indians. And that year, it 90 happened, marked the outbreak of the bloody Pequot War.

Winthrop was the father of the chemical industry in America. He saw that no nation could rise to greatness and yet depend upon others for basic chemical materials. Once we had gained our nationhood, chemical growth was encouraged and a slow but steady expansion of our chemical interests began. It has developed greatly during the last 25 years.

As a matter of record, America became world headquarters for phosphate fertilizers during the 19th Century. The inventions of two Americans—Frasch and Hall—gave us dominating positions in sulfur and aluminum. The first successful plastics were likewise American inventions. Still others were vulcanization of rubber; creation of one of the first improved steel alloys; and introduction of modern photography.

All of these stemmed from the industry that had its origin in John Winthrop's little Boston shop. Sitting in our supposed security between the expanses of two great oceans, with the world at peace and all shipping lanes open, bringing to us rubber, silk, dyes and a thousand other things from abroad, we looked upon our past accomplishments and thought them good.

It was only amid the crash of Europe's guns in 1914, '15 and '16 that we awakened to our devious shortcomings. Our proud independence was actually dependence. Weighed in the scales of scientific reality, we were a second-rate power. Something had been happening in the world during the previous 50 years which we had trustingly let happen. Almost without warning it threatened to wreck us.

Our strength, for that matter the economic strength of all nations up to that time, was based chiefly on natural resources—on coal, iron, oil, copper, and such chemicals as sulfur, phosphate and salt found in vast deposits in the ground. Possessing natural resources such as these, and the power and mechanical skills to adapt them to practical use, was regarded as all that was necessary for national greatness.

However, one nation, Germany, had forged ahead on a new tack. Weak in many natural resources, she had deliberately cultivated others. For one thing, her scientific men began to exploit coal, not merely as a fuel but as a chemical raw material. And they found that all the colors of the rainbow could be derived from the stuff that Americans were stoking into their furnaces. Likewise medicines, perfumes and plastics could be made from coal. Yes, coal also could be made to produce new more powerful war explosives and poison gas.

Herein were the means to world revolution and world conquest. German chemists had a headway of half a century over all competition. Historians may write of the First World War, as they write of all wars, in terms of clashing troops and the genius of generals; but fundamentally the struggle was between scientists and industrial producers.

The German hob-nailed boots pounded toward Paris behind a destroying rain of TNT and other new explosives produced on a scale far beyond all previous conceptions. The old type of warfare, which had been fought with black powder and shrapnel, was obsolete overnight. At the same time, the mere cessation of German chemical exports placed every opposing nation under a handicap—and no handicap was more serious than our own.

Our scientific students had to go abroad if they wanted the best training to be had. Fine laboratory apparatus and other equipment had to be imported, because we were without workmen skilled in making it.

Potash, necessary to food production, cost up to $600 a ton during World War I. We frantically spent vast sums in an effort to overcome this German monopoly that ruled even our dinner tables. The nitrate plants started at Muscle Shoals testified to the desperate situation we faced in nitrogen, needed for crops and explosives alike, and then mostly imported from distant Chile. Germany was beginning to get her nitrates from the air.

She made more than three-fourths of the world's dyes, holding a whiphand over the American textile, leather, paper, paint and ink industries. Even our paper money and postage stamps were printed with German-made colors. Our hospitals looked to Germany for vital drugs.

The world's largest user of rubber, we produced not one pound on American soil. For silk, camphor, bristles and essential oils we paid toll to Japan and the Far East.

Such was the situation only a generation ago. It well might have been our plight following Pearl Harbor save for the courage and determination of American business. Here and there were men—men with vision and venture capital—who resolved that this thing would not happen again. They wrote a new American Declaration of Independence in terms of American laboratories, American factories, and American investments on American soil.

Today, all the potash we can use is produced in the United States. The nitrogen without which our farms and a sizable part of industry could not operate, and without which we could not produce a pound of explosives, is being taken by chemical processes from the atmosphere. Both of these developments have come about mainly during the past 15 years, and most fortunately so.

We are now producing our own dyes and related fine chemicals in huge quantity and infinite variety. Camphor is being processed in chemical plants from southern turpentine, at a fraction of the former cost. Silk has been bettered by nylon—made from coal, air and water—an epochal achievement in chemical synthesis.

And as to rubber—

More than a century was consumed in bringing the crude rubber production of the world up to a million tons annually. The United States is now undertaking to accomplish almost as mighty a feat in less than two years, by the manufacture of chemical rubbers from petroleum, farm crops, and coal and limestone.

Lacking rubber in abundance, we could lose the war. But that, gentlemen, thanks to the American chemist, is just what is not going to happen. It is said that a miracle is called for in the synthetic rubber program; if so, a miracle can be achieved. It is conditional only upon the prompt delivery of materials and indefatigable cooperative labor. I am disclosing no secret when I tell you that tires made of synthetic rubber are even now on duty on American military vehicles—what is more, outdoing rubber itself!

Yes, we refounded our chemical industry during the First World War, and in the years that followed—years of peace—this re-born industry grew to maturity, strength, and world leadership. Today, that leadership is making itself felt throughout the industrial front. Yes, it is making itself felt on every war front in the world.

It is not enough for us to say merely that we are fighting for our homes, our American way of life. Ahead are better homes, a fuller life, a richer abundance. Nor is it enough to say the security of the nation that we have known, and know today. The real issue is the security of the future nation, the greatness of which we just are beginning to visualize.

Never before in history has a people at war had so much to gain by speeding the day of peace, for beyond us, visible even now and challenging our courage to win through to it, lies the frontier of an empire that is of vaster potential riches than all the Axis conquests combined.

Recently, the department of the Du Pont Company, of which I am the director, made a survey of a group of the country's largest industrial research laboratories, our own among them, to determine what the successful outcome of this war might mean to us. Some significant results of that

survey were reported to the American Chemical Society by Dr. Charles M. A. Stine in a brilliant address. If I borrow from that text, it is because it affords a most inspiring message to the American people.

I made mention a moment ago of the manufacture of synthetic rubber. I could talk at length on that subject. Suffice to say that by the end of next year if all goes well—and it can—we will declare our independence in rubber. Further, our production of aluminum then will be at a rate almost seven times greater than was attained in 1939 after half a century of intensive development. And we will be recovering from brine, sea water, and other sources approximately 100 times the amount of magnesium that was produced in 1939, when the magnesium industry in America was 24 years old.

Our aviation industry is establishing facilities for the manufacture in one year of almost double the number of planes it produced throughout the 37 years of its history prior to the start of the Defense Program. Compared to the old, these are super planes. Trans-oceanic craft capable of flying to Europe and return without a stop, with loads of 60 tons, are taking form in the industry's laboratories. They are twelve times the size of the famous "Clippers" that inaugurated trans-Atlantic commercial air service only a few years ago. Consider, too, the radio. I am reliably advised of secret developments in broadcasting technique which will completely revolutionize radio after the war.

The nation will emerge from the war with capacities for making plastics, synthetic fibers, nitrates, hydro-carbons, high octane gasolines and scores of chemical and other raw materials on a scale that would have been regarded as fantastic before the war began.

Few can grasp the implications of the magnitude of such projects, their bearing on our way of life. For instance, the aluminum-producing capacity being created will furnish enough metal in one year to build three times the number of passenger cars now operating on all American railroads. To produce this aluminum will require more electricity annually than was consumed in 1940 in 27 of our 48 states. Despite wartime tax schedules and wages, aluminum ingots now cost 25 per cent less than in 1940, and further economies are forecast through savings in fabricating costs.

Once as rare as platinum and more valuable than gold, aluminum has become a major metal cheap enough to build boats of it and plentiful enough for use in building automobiles and mark this, houses.

Magnesium is about 60 per cent the weight of aluminum and about one-fifth the weight of steel. It sold, in 1915, for $5 per pound and was a curiosity. Today, measured by cubic feet, magnesium at 22 1/2¢ a pound is cheaper than aluminum selling at 15¢ a pound, and almost a half ton of it, on the average, is going into every American fighting plane that is built. After the war, the nation's capacity for producing this lightest of all structural metals will be more than double its aluminum output of 1939.

Equally significant is the source of most of the magnesium now employed industrially. For the first time in the world's history a structural metal is being obtained from the sea by a chemical process. Huge pumps force 300,000,000 gallons of sea water daily through intricate apparatus. At present, magnesium and bromine are the only products recovered, but the water contains traces of every element found on land. We may be opening a new field of chemistry far more enticing than any of the imaginings of fictionists.

In turn, steel is challenging the light metals. Low alloy steels and new modifications of the higher alloy steels, fresh from the laboratory, are bidding for expanding uses in aviation and wherever lightness and strength are requisites. In the steel industry today, technicians speak confidently of monster aircraft that will be largely steel. These new alloys are three times the weight of aluminum and almost five times the weight of magnesium, but their tensile strength approximates 190,000 pounds to the square inch. This advantage permits weight to be shed by reducing bulk and eliminating needless supports.

The larger planes grow in the future, say the chemists of steel, the more pronounced will be the trend to the new steel alloys. Less subject to corrosion than plain steel, they are more easily corroded than aluminum, but this problem in protection is said to be on the way to solution. So watch steel in the mounting competition of light metals.

By all means, watch petroleum. Some years ago it was believed that the ultimate in motor fuel would be reached by the creation of a gasoline equivalent in power and antiknock qualities to pure iso-octane. So superior was iso-octane in these respects that it arbitrarily was given an octane number of 100, which became the standard in evaluating all gasolines. But that was before the Battle of Britain.

The epic fight of the Royal Air Force to save England, raging month after month against odds, was also a chemists' fight to produce better fuels—fuels that would get planes into the air in a fraction of the former time, that would give greater and yet greater speeds, longer and yet longer ranges. The American chemist was in that fight, because he knew more about motor fuels than any other chemist on earth. The Battle of Britain became a testing and development laboratory in which a nation's life was the stake.

The work done in that laboratory, and in our laboratories here at home as an outgrowth of that experience, has brought changes in motor fuel technology of which the effects will be reverberating long after the peace. Looking upon the situation indicated for after the war, the petroleum chemist now sees even today's fuel out of date tomorrow.

Consider another phase of petroleum chemistry. A barrel of crude oil contains literally thousands of chemical compounds. The chemist has long been fascinated by the possibility that almost anything under the sun might be created with these chemical building blocks of hydrogen and carbon; that simply by the addition of oxygen and other elements in the proper combination, he might obtain new alcohols, acids, solvents, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, and organic synthetics of every type. Catalytic cracking processes and adaptations of them, brought very recently to high stages of performance, are now leading toward this goal and taking petroleum chemistry into a realm once exclusive to coal-tar chemistry.

The largest catalytic cracking capacity in the world is being operated by American oil companies. Soon this capacity will approximate some hundreds of thousands of barrels daily. The significance of this development, well under way in 1939 but expanded to gigantic size by the needs of war, is beyond our present vision. Synthetic rubber, which as every chemist knows is not rubber at all but a new material of broader and yet more promising utility, is being produced from butadiene and styrene synthesized from petroleum.

With almost equal facility the petroleum chemist can give us ethylene, on the one hand, or benzene on the other, and supply them in quantities measured in hundreds of tons daily. This feat might be likened to drawing wine or water at will from the same cask, or getting beef or pork from the same animal, inasmuch as ethylene and benzene are members of quite different chemical families. Practically, they are employed in such diverse uses as the manufacture of

styrene plastics; both the Buna and Thiokol types of synthetic rubbers; drugs, dyes, and nylon.

Germany's early mastery and world monopoly of the production of benzene, toluene and other coal-tar crudes and intermediates—her then "secret weapon"—brought her armies almost to victory in the First World War. It was only by prodigious effort and at huge cost that private industry in the United States was able, during and after that war, to win independence in these chemicals, which are part and parcel of the nation's economic life-blood both in peace and war.

Today, we are doubly independent. Our coal-tar chemical industry is securely established. In addition, the possible output of benzene and toluene from petroleum is many times their peak output from coal tar. Furthermore, in super motor fuels, which may well be this war's deciding weapons, we are excelling the enemy's best in quantity and quality alike. Where Germany stood in 1914 with coal tar, the United States stands today with petroleum.

We need to be visionary to the point of audacity, in the light of today's evident facts, to discharge just a fair share of the post-war opportunities and responsibilities. Plastics were of sensational promise before Pearl Harbor. The newest and most versatile of plastics will be available after this war on an unprecedented scale. The high-pressure synthesis of ammonia, one of the major chemical exploits of the century, will have taken on an industrial status that, in terms of new producing capacity, may be comparable to the discovery of a sixth continent. The amount of fertilizer chemicals that this new capacity will be able to supply farmers for fertilizers will be so large that the basic trends of agriculture might be changed. These are but one group of a hundred or more products stemming from this high-pressure synthesis, which utilizes air, water and coal as its building blocks.

We will have glass that is unbreakable and glass that will float, wood that won't burn, and laminations of plastics and wood that will compete with the structural metals. Hosiery derived from air, water and coal, a wonder of pre-war days, is but the forerunner of many innovations from the same source, ranging from shoes that contain no leather and window screens that contain no wire, to machinery bearings that contain no metal.

I need hardly say this is unique in America's industrial history.

The normal course of invention and development is tedious and from small beginnings. The newly created material or product is, first, carefully evaluated in the laboratory. Surviving that test, manufacture is cautiously begun in an experimental or "pilot" plant. There are further evaluations as to its potential acceptance by the public. Finally, a production-scale plant is built of modest size, provided always that capital is available—and only in rare cases do investors rush to the support of an untried proposition. It has been Du Pont's experience that eight years is the average interval between the first conception of an invention and its commercial acceptance. Wide popular usage may not be realized for many years, though every strategy of salesmanship is employed. Witness the telephone, rayon, the automobile.

The war's urgent needs, however, have completely reversed the normal procedure. The scarcity of many conventional materials led producers to turn to anything promising in the way of substitutes.

Our laboratories were scoured for new things. Every new material and product, every new method and idea that had any promise at all became subjects of earnest attention. Problems of cost, and risk, and capital, which must be primary considerations in peacetime development, were

brushed aside by the much more pressing need to win the war. Behind the industrial innovator were placed the resources of the nation itself, and the watchword was "speed!" So, today, we have the plants. The investment in them, private and public, mounts into the billions of dollars. Their equipment is the latest, their processes are the newest. Under forced pressures, such as only the combined might of 130,000,000 people could bring to bear, they have taken form in the space of months.

Nothing like this ever happened before, because never before did we have at hand so many new industries in embryo, or so many young industries yet in the first flush of growth. I might mention nylon as an example. Suddenly, without the usual preliminaries of maturity, many of these have become indispensable.

Today, we produce to destroy. But tomorrow we will produce to build, and we will continue to invent and thus to multiply our possessions. We will have at our command ten, fifty, a hundred times what we had before, chiefly of new materials. Means will be at hand to perform feats that men have long-dreamed of doing.

Fuels, metals and plastics are now ready to complete the revolution in transportation begun early in the century. Automobiles in the years immediately following the war may be quite similar to those of today because of the immediate demand for motors, but we can see notable changes coming in due course.

Sealed cooling systems, proved on large-scale by aviation, may end in the post-war car the nuisance of adding water to radiators. Weights may be half what they are, saving from 1500 to 2000 pounds of useless load. The power output per cubic inch of piston displacement may double, treble and even quadruple. Fuels may yield 50 miles to the gallon. Cars can be air-conditioned, sound-proofed.

Instead of rubber alone, there will be a wide variety of rubbers for tires and other uses. In tires, the indicated range is from all natural rubber casings, through varying combinations of natural rubber and synthetics, to the all-synthetics. When one remembers that at present the synthetics are being adapted to tire specifications written for rubber, and that one of them—neoprene—was declared by the Baruch Committee to have proved itself fully equivalent to rubber in exhaustive tests of military tires, the future here looks promising indeed.

The upsurge of automobile technology will be paralleled in aviation. Designers are thinking in terms of hemisphere-spanning freighters and of passenger air-carriers in fleets numbering hundreds of planes. Transcontinental non-stop air trains of gliders, which would drop off or pick up "coaches" over the principal cities enroute, are probabilities. Technical considerations no longer limit the size of airplanes that can be built.

Now present are most of the elements essential to the wide popular ownership of planes. Small, highly efficient, almost foolproof craft can be produced at low cost, no more than that of the moderately priced automobile. An enormous plant capacity will be awaiting utilization, tens of thousands will have been trained in flying, and the post-war land will be dotted with air fields.

As never before we are conscious of the need for cheaper and better housing. It is coming because in no better way will we be able to put into worthwhile service the abundance of materials suitable for building all kinds of things. The engineer, the chemist, the production expert, and the development departments of some of our largest companies are alert to a promising opportunity.

Thus far, only general objectives have taken form. They are for homes costing in the order of $500 to $800 perroom. Prefabricated sections, which can be handled by a few men, will permit flexibility in architectural designs. New insulating materials, making possible light walls that will be several times as efficient as heavy masonry ones, will allow the use of revolutionary structural principles.

Plywood, plastics, rustless steels, non-ferrous alloys, various types of composition board, fire-resistant woods, ceramics, and synthetic finishes of lasting durability will be employed in profusion. For example, stainless steel is indicated as a common roofing material of the future.

Lighting will be automatic, governed by electric "eyes" sensitive to outside variations in the daylight. Air-conditioning units will be employed. The inner walls will be adjustable, so that several combinations of rooms can be arranged.

In many ways the new post-war home will be less costly to maintain and operate. One-half the fuel will heat it. Plastic surfaces will be good for a lifetime of wear. The electric bills will be smaller. To mention just one detail pointing the way: electric lamps that lasted 1500 hours in 1939 now last 2500 hours, gives 12 per cent more light, and cost from 12 to 17 per cent less.

Perhaps the most important of all the signs pointing to better days is the fact that the war has dissipated innumerable inertias. Ordinarily, the new is received with doubt. People cling to the old and tried, are loath to experiment, slow to change. When peace comes, however, the usual slow developmental process will have been reversed. War shortages of conventional materials will have resulted in eager trials of every new material science and industry could offer. And countless of the "substitutes" will have proved their superiority. Thus, an experience with, and an acceptance of, the new will have been gained that ordinarily might have taken many years to achieve.

No, we are not going back to the 1930's when the warends. We couldn't go back even if we wanted to. Time never turns back, nor does science. The power ruling our destiny has launched this generation into a revolutionary epoch, for which the past has been but preparatory. Our greatest achievements are yet ahead, in the high noon to come. When this great conflict has ended, when Main Street's conquering sons come home again, the huge new capacities for producing the finest in metals, plastics, fuels, fibers and countless other materials will be awaiting peaceful utilization.

The past will have been written off, the wraps removed from the war's secret developments, and the old books of rules discarded. Vast markets left unsatisfied while automobile makers now produce tanks and refrigerator makers turn out guns, will suddenly assert their needs. Priorities will go. The dearth of today will become abundance.

There inevitably will be dislocations, how serious only time can determine. They must be expected in the wholesale transition that impends. But we will no more return to the economy of the pre-war period than we will go back to the horse and buggy, the hand pump, and the coal oil lamp. We can't go back.

Just as now, in this war, only one course is open to us with honor, so will victory leave us without choice. We must go forward, not alone to a military victory but to the greater triumphs that can be ours with the coming of peace.

The foundation of our future has been laid. The girders of the new structure are even now being cast. Ahead, and ours for the grasping, are opportunities greater than ever before presented.

Ahead is the ultimate of accomplishment that has been America's destiny from the beginning. We fight, not for the past, but for the future, a future without parallel in the life of man.