Discovering Chlorine

Karl Wilhelm Scheele, the seventh of eleven children, born December 9, 1742, to a Swedish couple in Stralsund, was an apprentice to an apothecary in Gothenburg by the age of 14. A dozen years later he was working in a Stockholm pharmacy, studying and experimenting in his spare time with the pharmacy's salts, acids, ores, crystals, and other chemical wonders of the Eighteenth Century.

Although Scheele isolated oxygen, discovered glycerine, prepared the first hydrogen sulfide, noted the action of light on silver compounds, and wrote papers on a host of chemical analyses, the single work that was the foundation for more discoveries than any of his others was a paper he authored on manganese in which he announced the existence of chlorine. It also led to the subsequent isolation of manganese and barium.

Scheele died May 21, 1786, but the research into the production of and use for chlorine has continued to this day. During the year prior to his death, Count Claude-Louis Berthollet, a French textile producer, prepared a bleaching agent by dissolving gaseous (non-electrolytic) chlorine in water. In 1789, he improved this bleaching agent by adding the chlorine to a caustic potash solution. This bleaching agent became known as 'eau de Javelle', taking its name from Berthollet's chemical plant in Paris. In parts of Europe and Canada, this nomenclature still is used to denote hypochlorite.

As the popularity of the bleach solution spread throughout the Western world in the Nineteenth century, many names became attached to production technology. In the U.S., the first electrolytically produced chlorine for bleach was at a plant in Rumford Falls, Maine in 1892. This plant used a cell equipped with an asbestos diaphragm developed by Ernest A. LeSueur from Canada.

In the U.S., the first commercial delivery of liquefied chlorine in cylinders was made in 1909, and in the same year, a Michigan company was the first in America to ship liquid chlorine in a 15-ton single tank carload.

By 1924, the estimated yearly capacity of all commercial plants in the U.S. and Canada was approximately 180,000 tons of chlorine gas, of which about 46,000 tons were liquefied. These figures do not include the U.S. Army's Edgewood, Maryland Arsenal plant's annual chlorine gas production capacity of 36,500 tons.



Why the Chlorine Institute?

In his 1926 report on the Economics of Chlorine, D.A. Pritchard concludes "The [chlor-alkali] industry in North America has had to manufacture and sell cheaply, find markets and new uses, switch largely from bleaching powder to liquid chlorine, provide technical service, and adjust more or less imperfectly the economics of three distinct substances evolved in one major operation to a rapidly changing industrial structure, and do it all in about 16 years. A capacity bearing a reasonable relation to consumption, a decent return on its capital, and the continuance of research are essential to this key industry."

In January 1924, when Eben C. Speiden was contacting chlorine producers in the U.S. and Canada to meet to discuss the formation of an association of chlorine producers, the industry's capacity was about three times the demand. The original activities of the Chlorine Institute, therefore, were structured as the charter dictated, "... to foster the industrial interests of those engaged in the chlorine industry; and to engage in research work directed toward developing new uses and the more extended consumption of chlorine and its products."

The four original CI committees established were: Uniform Accounting; Commercial Research; Electrolytic Chlorine Plants Operated by Consumers; and Transportation. The first three committees remained active through 1932, and CI's Transportation Committee remains active to this day as the Transportation Issue Team.

Two original research projects were recorded as:

  • "Break Point" chlorination of water, which is a process that maximizes chlorine's germicidal action while lessening residual taste and odor.
  • Development of a practical method of bleaching 'kraft' pulp, which makes possible the production of heavy-duty paper in white and pastel shades.

Soon it became apparent that many such activities truly were the responsibility of the individual companies. Therefore, the Chlorine Institute's efforts then focused on what today remains CI's core mission: the safe production, distribution and use of chlorine as well as the security of chlorine handling operations.



CI's Original Members

The ten companies which paid the initiation fee of $250 and became the "Charter Members" of the Chlorine Institute in 1924 were:

  • Belle Alkali Company
    Belle, West Virginia
  • Canadian Salt Company, Limited
    Windsor, Ontario
  • Great Western Electro-Chemical Company
    San Francisco, California (Exec. and Sales Offices)
  • Hooker Electrochemical Company
    New York City, NY
  • Isco Chemical Company, Inc.
    Niagara Falls, NY
  • Mathieson Alkali Works, Inc.
    New York, NY
  • Monsanto Chemical Company
    St. Louis, Missouri
  • Niagara Alkai Company
    New York, NY
  • Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co., Inc.
    Philadelphia, PA
  • The Roessler & Hasslacher Chemical Company
    New York, NY


Within the first year of organization, the by-laws were amended to admit, as Associate Members, companies not making or selling chlorine, but with an interest in the industry. Wallace & Tiernan Co., of Newark, New Jersey, was the first Associate Member.