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1. What they Made

2. How they Made it

3. Where they Made it

What they Made

The fertilizer industry had been a successful aspect of the agriculture landscape in the Mid-Atlantic States since the middle of the 19th century. By the mid 1800s, soil exhaustion due to cash crops in the South like tobacco created a market for Baltimore-based companies, who were able to capitalize on their proximity to the customers, the railroad and the port. Between 1860-70, Baltimore made half of all fertilizers in the country, and Hagerstown, with its close proximity to both Baltimore and the several railroads, was an optimum location for agricultural product manufacturer.

Early fertilizer industry products were based in manure—easily available waste from farm animals. By the 1850s, the industry had weaned itself away from their dependence on imported guano and begun synthesizing and combining materials to create more sophisticated fertilizers. Superphosphates--ground bone dissolved in sulphuric acid--and other mixed fertilizers began to lead the market and eventually the industry shifted southward to take advantage of the phosphate resources in South Carolina. By 1880, a wave of industry consolidation resulted in the creation the “Big Six,” including the Virginia-Carolina fertilizer company and others that dominate the commercial market.

When Central Chemical was established in 1911, it was billed as a centrally located “Dry Mix” plant. An ad in a trade yearbook from 1927 proclaims: “Hagerstown—On B. &O., Penna, H&F, Norfolk and Western, and Western Md. RR CC –D (“Dry mixing plant. Buy all materials prepared for mixing.”) This method of manufacture became very popular after 1920 when chemists were able to create synthetic components through a process called ammoniazation, further decreasing reliance on natural products. At the peak of the Mixed fertilizer market, from 1920-50, two-thirds of fertilizers were Mixed-type and 90% of those were what was known as NPK—Nitrogen/Phosphate/Potassium mixes. After WWII, Pesticides began to be introduced and mixed into fertilizers, the most popular of which were DDT and BHC (benzene hydrochloride), chlordane. By the 1980s the Bulk Blending fertilizer market was diminished due to the rise of liquid fertilizers and the direct application method. Bulk blenders like Central Chemical would by the raw materials in bulk and custom blend the mixtures for particular farmers, or sell them under their own brand names.

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