1st demonstration of Dynamite
Alfred Nobel had already wooed Scandinavia and Germany with the power of dynamite as a practical, safe blasting explosive. But the British authorities were typically a little more reserved when it came to affording him permission to start production.
Nobel had already defined himself as rare beast; he was an inventor who could turn in a profit. A remarkable chemist whose reputation preceded him, his 1865 demonstration of nitroglycerine in Cornwall may have been partly responsible for the British authorities’ cold feet. The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society – a charitable organisation promoting science and the arts – held an exhibition to which Nobel and his explosives were invited. The power of nitroglycerine was in no doubt, after the force of the blast damaged the society’s hall. Structural damage in Cornwall was not the best way to reverse Britain’s conservative legislation regarding explosives.
Indeed, Britain’s legislation was somewhat anachronistic in the light of this new explosive – nitroglycerine was a liquid, not a powder. Nobel was not deterred by the British insouciance. Returning in 1867, he applied for a British patent for dynamite. This was Nobel’s third attempt. Britain was a tough market to crack.
Mixing liquid nitroglycerine with an absorbent material, Nobel had created a malleable explosive, one which could be packed into sticks. Though it would prove to be an integral feature of spaghetti westerns, it was the quarrying and mining industries in the UK that should have been praying for permission for Nobel’s dynamite to be used. On 14th July, 1867, Nobel demonstrated dynamite for the first time in the UK at Merstham Quarry, Surrey. It was a practical demonstration. No-one was injured, no buildings damaged, but again, he failed to convince the authorities.
It took Nobel two more years of campaigning before he was allowed to go into production. Tragedies like the Caernarvon explosion, in which four people were killed when a consignment of nitroglycerine exploded, did not help. Eventually, in 1871, Nobel set up business in Ardeer, a remote location in the Clyde Estuary, in the West of Scotland. The British Dynamite Company was in business.
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