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Dow Chemical Company

From Ohio History Central

Herbert H. Dow founded the Dow Chemical Company in 1895 in Cleveland, Ohio. Originally, the firm was known as the Dow Process Company. The company originally focused on extracting bromine from underground brine, a liquid substance leftover from no longer existent oceans. Dow realized that numerous chemicals existed in the brine, and he tried to develop a way to extract them. He was first successful in extracting bromine, a compound used in sleep medicines and in the photography industry. Dow quickly discovered ways to extract additional minerals from the brine, including chlorine, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. These compounds proved useful in a number of industries during this period, making Dow a wealthy man. He moved his company to Midland Michigan, where he renamed his firm the Dow Chemical Company in 1896.

By 1900, Herbert Dow had become one of the United States' leading scientists and the Dow Chemical Company was one of the largest producers of chemicals in the nation. Dow Chemical, however, did face stiff competition in the economic arena. Germany currently dominated chemical production. Dow sold his bromine for thirty-six cents per pound, while German companies sold their bromine for forty-nine cents per pound. The German companies threatened to flood Dow's markets with more cheaply priced bromine to drive the American out of business.

Dow refused to succumb to German pressure to increase the price of his bromine. Rather, Dow began to sell his bromine for a cheaper price in Europe, hurting the profits of the Germans. The Germans retaliated by selling bromine to American business owners for only fifteen cents per pound. Undaunted, Dow purchased large quantities of the Germans' fifteen cent bromine and then resold it in Europe at twenty-seven cents, undercutting the German price on this continent by twenty-two cents! The Germans did not realize that Dow was behind the cheaper price in Europe. Even worse for the Germans, they repeatedly cut the price of bromine in the United States. Before long, bromine was selling for 10.5 cents in the United States, and Dow was continuing to repackage and sell this bromine in Europe for twenty-seven cents. After four years, Dow and the Germans finally negotiated an agreement. The Germans would no longer sell bromine in the United States, and Dow would not sell his bromine in Germany. The two sides would compete for customers in the rest of the world.

Dow Chemical continued to prosper with the outbreak of World War I. Germans had long dominated chemical production, and now, with trade temporarily ended with Germany, the United States had to find new sources to obtain chemicals. Dow expanded the Dow Chemical Company's products, producing new chemicals for explosives, pain relievers, and additional chemicals necessary during wartime. Following the war, Dow focused his energies on the automobile industry, producing light-weight parts for car engines that proved to be more fuel efficient. The Dow Chemical Company also improved gasoline.

Herbert Dow remained active in the company until his death from cirrhosis of the liver in 1930. William H. Dow, Herbert's son, assumed control of the company. Under new leadership, the company continued to lead chemical production in the United States. William Dow's major achievement, during his tenure as company president, was to extract bromine and other chemicals from seawater. In the year 2000, Dow Chemical was the fifth largest chemical firm in the world. The company had more than one hundred plants in more than thirty countries and sold its products in more than 120 additional nations. Its product line, which originally consisted of only bromine, included more than two thousand different items in 2000.

See Also


  1. Campbell, Murray. Herbert H. Dow: Pioneer in Creative Chemistry. N.p.: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951.
  2. Cashman, Sean. America in the Gilded Age. N.p.: NYU Press, 1993.
  3. Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. N.p.: Belknap Press, 1993.
  4. Murdock, Eugene. Buckeye Empire: An Illustrated History of Ohio Enterprise. N.p.: Windsol, 1988.
  5. Painter, Nell Irwin. Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. N.p.: W.W. Norton, 2008.
  6. Porter, Glenn. The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920. N.p.: Harlan Davidson, 2006.