Dynamite: The Explosive Of Choice For More Than 100 Years

Dynamite. It is a traditional explosive. It is probably the better known of all such material on the market today. It has a familiarity. In its role as an explosive device, it has appeared on both the big and small screens. It has also made its way into the common lexicon several times as an expression for something – an action, event or items that has the power to shake things up.

A Brief History

Dynamite first appeared in 1866. It began as an experiment by Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896) to reduce the risk to those who used nitroglycerin in their work. This substance, discovered by Italian chemist Ascario Sobrero (1812 – 1888) in 1846 was highly unstable. It was responsible for the loss of many lives, including Emil Noble (1843-1864), Alfred B.’s brother. This tragic incident drove Nobel to find an alternative.

The result was a new packaging of nitroglycerin. It took another 20 years, but eventually, after much experimentation aboard a boat in the middle of the lake, Nobel produced a stable form. He discovered that when he combined nitroglycerin with diatomaceous earth, the result is a stable explosive. By using the earth to soak up the nitroglycerin, he provided the means through which people could safely handle it.

Nobel patented the new item as dynamite (derived from the Greek word dynamis meaning “power”) in 1867 and, much to the chagrin and distaste of Sobrero, began to develop it commercially. In fact, Sobrero, whom Nobel had met and briefly worked with in the private lab of Professor T. J. Pelouze, a famous chemist in Paris France in 1849, never forgave himself for the discovery of nitroglycerin and what became of it. He did not see the work of Nobel as a means of making the unstable, dangerous explosive safer for usage. Nobel had the means of producing the new product, having established a large factory in Krümmel, Germany that was exporting nitroglycerin to several other countries. Nobel also had invented a form of detonating cap that improved the safe use of several explosive materials.

After 1876, when it proved its worth in the large-scale construction of the Hoosac Tunnel in Western Massachusetts, dynamite became the explosive of choice dynamite became the explosive of choice for many large and small commercial projects. Nobel’s firm, by then, had factories and/or laboratories in several countries. He also had strong ties with industrialists and scientists as he continued to work on improving the safety for those who had to work with explosives daily.

Dynamite Today

Dynamite fall under the classification of Secondary High Explosive. This indicates it requires a detonator to set it off. As a producer of a cool flame – one that will not ignite coal dust and methane gas easily – dynamite has become a staple in mine operations. As a commercial explosive, dynamite continues to provide a safe means of creating a controlled explosion to remove obstacles.

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