Hercules Powder


Rex Racer
 

THE HISTORY OF HERCULES


The name Hercules comes from a potent and explosive black powder made by the California Powder Works. The company named their product after Hercules, the Greek mythological hero known for his strength, in order to signify how powerful the black powder was. What began as a California Powder Works plant site on the shores of San Pablo Bay grew into the company town of Hercules, which thrived through one hundred years, three transferals of ownership, and five wars.

When the American Industrial Revolution began in the 1800's, California Powder Works joined the ranks and started a company on the west coast, near Santa Cruz, California, in 1861. In the business of making black powder, a highly explosive substance, the company prospered and provided fierce competition for the other west coast explosive firms. In 1868, the company began producing dynamite.

In 1869, California Powder Works established a dynamite plant in San Francisco in the same area that is now Golden Gate Park. As San Francisco developed and the populace moved closer to the plant, the dangerous business of producing explosives proved undesirable, and California Powder Works was forced to find a new location.

In 1879, California Powder Works began purchasing land on the isolated shores of San Pablo Bay. The plant was constructed in two years, and finally, in 1881 began producing dynamite. For safety purposes, the buildings were constructed in a series of gullies and ravines. The Hercules plant did not start manufacturing black powder until 1893, when the entire Santa Cruz plant and works moved north to reestablish in Hercules.

From 1881 until 1919, 59 lives were taken by explosions. The majority of the devastating blasts happened in the nitroglycerin house and in the building in which the dynamite was produced. The most disastrous explosion occurred in February, 1908, when 24 men were killed in a single explosion.

Before the United States Government declared war on Germany, the Hercules plant was involved in World War I producing dynamite and TNT (trinitrotoluene) for the Allied Forces. In 1915, the plant manufactured 20,000 pounds of explosives daily, but in 1917, after the U. S. entered the War, over seven million pounds of TNT per month were produced, making Hercules the largest-producing plant in the United States. Throughout its history, the Hercules plant experienced changes due to expansion and new product development. The powder company was easing out if its role as a manufacturer of explosives as early as 1940, when an anhydrous ammonia plant (NH3fertilizer) was built.

In 1959, Hercules began construction of a multi-million dollar manufacturing facility, the first of its kind in the western states. The company's goal was to annually produce eight million gallons of methanol, 50 million pounds of formaldehyde, and 11 thousand tons of urea formaldehyde composition. Completed in 1966, these were the 1st buildings constructed in Hercules' 25 years transition from explosives to fertilizer. Since it no longer manufactured black powder, the Hercules Powder Company was re-named Hercules, Incorporated.

In 1976, Hercules, Inc. sold the plant site to Valley Nitrogen Producers, a chemical and fertilizer producing corporation which owned other plants in California.

The plant at Hercules had operated without labor problems for over 95 years under the ownership of the Hercules Powder Company. While relations between the company and the workers did become strained at times, no disputes became critical enough to cause a strike. The only strike in the plant's history was a bitter labor/management dispute which curtailed operations in 1977, after Valley Nitrogen Producers had taken control of the plant.

The plant was closed permanently. Cost and profit contributed to the final shutdown that ended the strike and laid off employees. It actually became cheaper to purchase the product from another country and ship it to Hercules than it was to manufacture it here. The cost of natural gas, a vital part of fertilizer production, had skyrocketed with inflation.

The infamous drought of 1977 also added validity to the idea of closing the plant, because the farmers had no need to fertilize their crops if they could not irrigate. Immediately after shutdown in November of 1977, the plant was offered for sale. It remained idle until 1979, when it was purchased by a group of investors called Hercules Properties, Ltd.

After Hercules, Inc. ceased dynamite production in the 60's, the Company realized that it no longer needed the large parcels of surrounding land which had served as a buffer zone. They decided to create a new city on the land outside the plant. The City Council developed a General Plan to form a new city. After two years of working with consultants and holding numerous public meetings, the General plan for a city of 22,000 residents by the year 2000 was adopted by the Council.

Hercules, Inc. had originally intended to develop the land rather than sell it to other developers. After a close examination of the immensity of the project, they decided that their lack of experience in the development field would make the project undesirable. They began selling the land to other developers. In 1974, Centex Homes of California, Inc., purchased the first section of land, a large residential area near the northeastern boundary of the City.

The Centex purchase was a gamble. No one was sure that people would be willing to move to this part of the East Bay. Most new housing was being constructed in Central Contra Costa County and Alameda County. The work that went into the General Plan paid off. People lined up to buy the new Centex homes finished in 1975. New residents were attracted to the rural feeling of open space and to affordable houses. Hercules was a booming town once again.


Garth Groff <sarahsan@...>
 

Friends,

What this text does not say is that Hercules owned an extensive narrow gauge railroad that tunneled under what is now the I-80 freeway to storage magazines in the hills. I once saw a train on their track from the freeway when I was a youngster. There was apparently no place where one could get anywhere near the railroad for obvious safety reasons, and it remained one of the most obscure industrial railroads in California. The track was removed in the early 1960s, probably in conjunction with the phase-out of explosives production.

Yours Aye,


Garth Groff

On 6/26/15 11:06 AM, mitatech@... [STMFC] wrote:
 

THE HISTORY OF HERCULES


The name Hercules comes from a potent and explosive black powder made by the California Powder Works. The company named their product after Hercules, the Greek mythological hero known for his strength, in order to signify how powerful the black powder was. What began as a California Powder Works plant site on the shores of San Pablo Bay grew into the company town of Hercules, which thrived through one hundred years, three transferals of ownership, and five wars.

When the American Industrial Revolution began in the 1800's, California Powder Works joined the ranks and started a company on the west coast, near Santa Cruz, California, in 1861. In the business of making black powder, a highly explosive substance, the company prospered and provided fierce competition for the other west coast explosive firms. In 1868, the company began producing dynamite.

In 1869, California Powder Works established a dynamite plant in San Francisco in the same area that is now Golden Gate Park. As San Francisco developed and the populace moved closer to the plant, the dangerous business of producing explosives proved undesirable, and California Powder Works was forced to find a new location.

In 1879, California Powder Works began purchasing land on the isolated shores of San Pablo Bay. The plant was constructed in two years, and finally, in 1881 began producing dynamite. For safety purposes, the buildings were constructed in a series of gullies and ravines. The Hercules plant did not start manufacturing black powder until 1893, when the entire Santa Cruz plant and works moved north to reestablish in Hercules.

>From 1881 until 1919, 59 lives were taken by explosions. The majority of the devastating blasts happened in the nitroglycerin house and in the building in which the dynamite was produced. The most disastrous explosion occurred in February, 1908, when 24 men were killed in a single explosion.

Before the United States Government declared war on Germany, the Hercules plant was involved in World War I producing dynamite and TNT (trinitrotoluene) for the Allied Forces. In 1915, the plant manufactured 20,000 pounds of explosives daily, but in 1917, after the U. S. entered the War, over seven million pounds of TNT per month were produced, making Hercules the largest-producing plant in the United States. Throughout its history, the Hercules plant experienced changes due to expansion and new product development. The powder company was easing out if its role as a manufacturer of explosives as early as 1940, when an anhydrous ammonia plant (NH3fertilizer) was built.

In 1959, Hercules began construction of a multi-million dollar manufacturing facility, the first of its kind in the western states. The company's goal was to annually produce eight million gallons of methanol, 50 million pounds of formaldehyde, and 11 thousand tons of urea formaldehyde composition. Completed in 1966, these were the 1st buildings constructed in Hercules' 25 years transition from explosives to fertilizer. Since it no longer manufactured black powder, the Hercules Powder Company was re-named Hercules, Incorporated.

In 1976, Hercules, Inc. sold the plant site to Valley Nitrogen Producers, a chemical and fertilizer producing corporation which owned other plants in California.

The plant at Hercules had operated without labor problems for over 95 years under the ownership of the Hercules Powder Company. While relations between the company and the workers did become strained at times, no disputes became critical enough to cause a strike. The only strike in the plant's history was a bitter labor/management dispute which curtailed operations in 1977, after Valley Nitrogen Producers had taken control of the plant.

The plant was closed permanently. Cost and profit contributed to the final shutdown that ended the strike and laid off employees. It actually became cheaper to purchase the product from another country and ship it to Hercules than it was to manufacture it here. The cost of natural gas, a vital part of fertilizer production, had skyrocketed with inflation.

The infamous drought of 1977 also added validity to the idea of closing the plant, because the farmers had no need to fertilize their crops if they could not irrigate. Immediately after shutdown in November of 1977, the plant was offered for sale. It remained idle until 1979, when it was purchased by a group of investors called Hercules Properties, Ltd.

After Hercules, Inc. ceased dynamite production in the 60's, the Company realized that it no longer needed the large parcels of surrounding land which had served as a buffer zone. They decided to create a new city on the land outside the plant. The City Council developed a General Plan to form a new city. After two years of working with consultants and holding numerous public meetings, the General plan for a city of 22,000 residents by the year 2000 was adopted by the Council.

Hercules, Inc. had originally intended to develop the land rather than sell it to other developers. After a close examination of the immensity of the project, they decided that their lack of experience in the development field would make the project undesirable. They began selling the land to other developers. In 1974, Centex Homes of California, Inc., purchased the first section of land, a large residential area near the northeastern boundary of the City.

The Centex purchase was a gamble. No one was sure that people would be willing to move to this part of the East Bay. Most new housing was being constructed in Central Contra Costa County and Alameda County. The work that went into the General Plan paid off. People lined up to buy the new Centex homes finished in 1975. New residents were attracted to the rural feeling of open space and to affordable houses. Hercules was a booming town once again.



Brad Smith
 

There was a Hercules plant on the north side of Milwaukee.  There must have been either a Hercules plant or a Hercules customer on the New Haven, as the red Hercules tank cars traveled on a NH branch line.  I don't remember which line it was.
 
Brad Smith
Franklin, WI


Gary Ray
 

Appreciate the article.

 

There was a California Powder Works between Anderson and Redding in the 20’s (have to go back to my maps to check exactly where).  Does anyone know if they manufactured there or just sold product?

Gary Ray

 

From: STMFC@... [mailto:STMFC@...]
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2015 8:07 AM
To: STMFC@...
Subject: [STMFC] Re: Hercules Powder

 




THE HISTORY OF HERCULES


The name Hercules comes from a potent and explosive black powder made by the California Powder Works. The company named their product after Hercules, the Greek mythological hero known for his strength, in order to signify how powerful the black powder was. What began as a California Powder Works plant site on the shores of San Pablo Bay grew into the company town of Hercules, which thrived through one hundred years, three transferals of ownership, and five wars.

When the American Industrial Revolution began in the 1800's, California Powder Works joined the ranks and started a company on the west coast, near Santa Cruz, California, in 1861. In the business of making black powder, a highly explosive substance, the company prospered and provided fierce competition for the other west coast explosive firms. In 1868, the company began producing dynamite.

In 1869, California Powder Works established a dynamite plant in San Francisco in the same area that is now Golden Gate Park. As San Francisco developed and the populace moved closer to the plant, the dangerous business of producing explosives proved undesirable, and California Powder Works was forced to find a new location.

In 1879, California Powder Works began purchasing land on the isolated shores of San Pablo Bay. The plant was constructed in two years, and finally, in 1881 began producing dynamite. For safety purposes, the buildings were constructed in a series of gullies and ravines. The Hercules plant did not start manufacturing black powder until 1893, when the entire Santa Cruz plant and works moved north to reestablish in Hercules.

From 1881 until 1919, 59 lives were taken by explosions. The majority of the devastating blasts happened in the nitroglycerin house and in the building in which the dynamite was produced. The most disastrous explosion occurred in February, 1908, when 24 men were killed in a single explosion.

Before the United States Government declared war on Germany, the Hercules plant was involved in World War I producing dynamite and TNT (trinitrotoluene) for the Allied Forces. In 1915, the plant manufactured 20,000 pounds of explosives daily, but in 1917, after the U. S. entered the War, over seven million pounds of TNT per month were produced, making Hercules the largest-producing plant in the United States. Throughout its history, the Hercules plant experienced changes due to expansion and new product development. The powder company was easing out if its role as a manufacturer of explosives as early as 1940, when an anhydrous ammonia plant (NH3fertilizer) was built.

In 1959, Hercules began construction of a multi-million dollar manufacturing facility, the first of its kind in the western states. The company's goal was to annually produce eight million gallons of methanol, 50 million pounds of formaldehyde, and 11 thousand tons of urea formaldehyde composition. Completed in 1966, these were the 1st buildings constructed in Hercules' 25 years transition from explosives to fertilizer. Since it no longer manufactured black powder, the Hercules Powder Company was re-named Hercules, Incorporated.

In 1976, Hercules, Inc. sold the plant site to Valley Nitrogen Producers, a chemical and fertilizer producing corporation which owned other plants in California.

The plant at Hercules had operated without labor problems for over 95 years under the ownership of the Hercules Powder Company. While relations between the company and the workers did become strained at times, no disputes became critical enough to cause a strike. The only strike in the plant's history was a bitter labor/management dispute which curtailed operations in 1977, after Valley Nitrogen Producers had taken control of the plant.

The plant was closed permanently. Cost and profit contributed to the final shutdown that ended the strike and laid off employees. It actually became cheaper to purchase the product from another country and ship it to Hercules than it was to manufacture it here. The cost of natural gas, a vital part of fertilizer production, had skyrocketed with inflation.

The infamous drought of 1977 also added validity to the idea of closing the plant, because the farmers had no need to fertilize their crops if they could not irrigate. Immediately after shutdown in November of 1977, the plant was offered for sale. It remained idle until 1979, when it was purchased by a group of investors called Hercules Properties, Ltd.

After Hercules, Inc. ceased dynamite production in the 60's, the Company realized that it no longer needed the large parcels of surrounding land which had served as a buffer zone. They decided to create a new city on the land outside the plant. The City Council developed a General Plan to form a new city. After two years of working with consultants and holding numerous public meetings, the General plan for a city of 22,000 residents by the year 2000 was adopted by the Council.

Hercules, Inc. had originally intended to develop the land rather than sell it to other developers. After a close examination of the immensity of the project, they decided that their lack of experience in the development field would make the project undesirable. They began selling the land to other developers. In 1974, Centex Homes of California, Inc., purchased the first section of land, a large residential area near the northeastern boundary of the City.

The Centex purchase was a gamble. No one was sure that people would be willing to move to this part of the East Bay. Most new housing was being constructed in Central Contra Costa County and Alameda County. The work that went into the General Plan paid off. People lined up to buy the new Centex homes finished in 1975. New residents were attracted to the rural feeling of open space and to affordable houses. Hercules was a booming town once again.





genegreen1942@...
 

I STILL don't know what was carried in those tank cars but I have decided this is not worth pursuing.  I'm pretty sure that, whatever is was, it wouldn't have come from or gone to Marshalltown, Iowa.  If I ever come across appropriate decals and a suitable tank car at the same time, I may just have a Hercules Powder tank car pass through the scene in a through freight but even that is unlikely.  Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Gene Green


Brad Smith
 

Well, they passed thru somewhere to get to Milwaukee and New England. I just wish someone would make the older red car. Two versions of the newer scheme have been made in N-Scale. 

Brad Smith

Sent from Brad's iPod

On Jun 26, 2015, at 8:40 PM, genegreen1942@... [STMFC] <STMFC@...> wrote:

 

I STILL don't know what was carried in those tank cars but I have decided this is not worth pursuing.  I'm pretty sure that, whatever is was, it wouldn't have come from or gone to Marshalltown, Iowa.  If I ever come across appropriate decals and a suitable tank car at the same time, I may just have a Hercules Powder tank car pass through the scene in a through freight but even that is unlikely.  Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Gene Green


asychis@...
 

Since we are talking "powder" companies, does anyone have information on the Egyptian Powder Company? The main factory was in Herrin, Illinois, and I believe it was sold to Olin.  There are a few scattered references to it on the net.  I once saw a logo on some site, but cannot find it back.  It will be on my MoPac layout as a major customer, and the freight car traffic to and from will generate a lot of switching.  Jerry Michels


Garth Groff <sarahsan@...>
 

Jerry,

Have you looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps? Major industries were almost always covered in detail on these maps, including rail sidings, and it is interesting to trace changes from map to map.

Yours Aye,


Garth Groff

On 6/27/15 7:22 AM, asychis@... [STMFC] wrote:
 

Since we are talking "powder" companies, does anyone have information on the Egyptian Powder Company? The main factory was in Herrin, Illinois, and I believe it was sold to Olin.  There are a few scattered references to it on the net.  I once saw a logo on some site, but cannot find it back.  It will be on my MoPac layout as a major customer, and the freight car traffic to and from will generate a lot of switching.  Jerry Michels


George Corral <jorgec@...>
 

Hi all,

 

I sent the story about Hercules to my high school buddy who was the manager of the city of Hercules and he replied with this added information:

 

Pretty accurate story. One little known fact was that a majority of the laborers were Chinese. They had separate living quarters. The Chinese workers were given numbers and were addressed by their number not there name. Of the 27 killed in the explosion most were believed to be Chinese. 

 

I saw segments of the narrow gauge rail lines that carried dynamite from the plant which was on the water into the hillside where bunkers were located.”

 

George Corral

La Grange, KY


Chuck Cover
 

There is a Proto 2000 kit for an 8,000 gallon Hercules Tank car.  I just built one.  You can probably find one on EBay.

 

Chuck


David Sieber
 

 In STMFC, Gene Green said:  I STILL don't know what was carried in those tank cars but I have decided this is not worth pursuing.  I'm pretty sure that, whatever is was, it wouldn't have come from or gone to Marshalltown, Iowa.  If I ever come across appropriate decals and a suitable tank car at the same time, I may just have a Hercules Powder tank car pass through the scene in a through freight but even that is unlikely.  Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Gene, per the history " The powder company was easing out if its role as a manufacturer of explosives as early as 1940, when an anhydrous ammonia plant (NH3fertilizer) was built ... In 1959, Hercules began construction of a multi-million dollar manufacturing facility, the first of its kind in the western states. The company's goal was to annually produce eight million gallons of methanol, 50 million pounds of formaldehyde, and 11 thousand tons of urea formaldehyde composition. Completed in 1966, these were the first buildings constructed in Hercules' 25 years transition from explosives to fertilizer."
Might there have been a receiver of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer in or near the Marshalltown area during your modeling era?
Dave Sieber, Reno  NV

 


Bill Welch
 

Although I don't remember which specific varieties I used, I remember the distinctive squat metal cans that the two or three types of Hercules powders I used for reloading .45 Auto and .357 Magnum ammo. I think it must have come via Railway Express. This was mid-late 1960's early 1970's.

Bill Welch


Brad Smith
 

Chuck, is it one of the red cars?

Brad Smith

Sent from Brad's iPod

On Jun 27, 2015, at 9:06 AM, 'Chuck Cover' chuck.cover@... [STMFC] <STMFC@...> wrote:

 

There is a Proto 2000 kit for an 8,000 gallon Hercules Tank car.  I just built one.  You can probably find one on EBay.

 

Chuck


Dave Nelson
 

The Sanborn’s for Hercules CA that I’ve look at are blank.  Not even an admission refused notation.  No surprise really… what fire department was willing to go there?  FWIW there were multiple explosives industries on either side of Pt Richmond on SF Bay… Hercules to the east, Giant and Cal Cap were just to the south, and Pt Richmond itself was used for storage and loading ships.  Today, Pt. Richmond is a park.

 

As for what Hercules Powder made, a substantial portion of their production was Gun Cotton which is made from concentrated Sulfuric Acid, 70% Nitric acid, ordinary cellulous (cotton, sawdust, etc) and a clean water rinse.  Gun Cotton burns at subsonic speeds which makes it ideal for artillery and small arms charges.  They also made high explosives like dynamite for mining & construction… and whatever compound was the “active” ingredient in those artillery shells launched by the gun cotton.

 

So at a minimum one could properly call those tank car loads Sulfuric and/or Nitric acid and probably be correct.

 

Dave Nelson

=================================================

From: STMFC@... [mailto:STMFC@...]
Jerry,

Have you looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps? Major industries were almost always covered in detail on these maps, including rail sidings, and it is interesting to trace changes from map to map.

Yours Aye,


Garth Groff

 


Jon Miller <atsfus@...>
 

On 6/27/2015 9:41 AM, 'Dave Nelson' Lake_Muskoka@... [STMFC] wrote:
substantial portion of their production was Gun Cotton

    I still remember a demo of gun cotton in my HS chem class.  He made it and ignited it.  Try that today!

-- 
Jon Miller
For me time stopped in 1941
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