A patent was acquired, and the two approached George Owen
Knapp of People’s Gas Light and Coke Company in Chicago. Knapp
recognized the value of an inexpensive way to create acetylene, a
brightly luminous gas used for street and home lighting. Over the
next several years, various patent rights were purchased, Union
Carbide Company was created, and a fortune was born.
Knapp and other investors, including his good friend and
colleague, C. K. G. Billings, built a hydroelectric plant near Niagara
Falls to power their electric furnaces, packaged the resultant calcium
carbide in barrels and sent them off to be used by city and private
gasworks as well as by manufacturers of acetylene lamps.
by Hattie Beresford
George Owen Knapp in 1938 (Courtesy Kaye Wright)
George Owen Knapp
hile experimenting with
smelting techniques in
1892, Major James Turner
Morehead of North Carolina
and Thomas L. Willson threw
equal parts coke (processed coal) and lime into their new ore-
laden electric furnace. The result was a mass of soft grayish lumps
and no molten ore. Pouring cold water over the hot mess, they
discovered that the grey lumps emitted a pungent gas, acetylene.