April 1, 1926: Belle DuPont Plant Produces North America's First High-Pressure Processed Ammonia
On April 1, 1926, the DuPont plant at Belle produced North America’s first ammonia made from a high-pressure process. A few years before, chemical giant E. I. DuPont had decided to build an ammonia plant, using technology developed by Germany during World War I. The technology consisted of giant mechanical compressors, called ‘‘hypers,’’ which generated up to 15,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. In 1925, DuPont started construction of its new hyper-pressure plant in the eastern Kanawha County town of Belle.
The DuPont Belle Works went on to achieve many firsts. In 1927, it produced the first commercial synthetic wood alcohol, known as methanol. From 1937 to 1946, the plant generated rootstock chemicals for the world’s entire supply of nylon. All nylon used by the U.S. armed forces during World War II came from chemicals produced in Belle. By the early ’50s, more than 5,000 people worked at the DuPont Belle Works.
Production was reduced in the late 20th century, with ammonia eliminated as a product in 1978. Today, the plant still produces specialty chemicals, but with automation and new technology, the workforce has fallen below 700.