Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

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"The chemical industry of the United States was not developed until after the revolutionary War... The paint and varnish industry may be said to have started with Samuel Wetherill. He was an agent for English manufacturers of white lead. He succeeded in making white lead as early as 1787. Later he decided to build a plant for its manufacture, when he was warned that if he did so the English manufactures would not all the enterprise to succeed. he was advised to build so that in case of failure it could be readily changed into a brewery. In 1804, a short time after the plant was erected, it was destroyed by fire. The day after the fire a young Englishman in his employ disappeared. It was always believed that he had been bribed by English rivals to set fire to the plant. Nothing daunted he rebuilt in 1808. The interruption of commerce with Europe by the Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts and the war of 1812 gave Wetherill time to establish the manufacture of white lead on a firm footing."—Manufacturing in Philadelphia, 1683-1912, pp. 58-60.

E.I. DuPont de Nemours Company
, Marshall Laboratory
3500 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19146

John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

This twentieth century complex was built up on the site of the Harrison Brothers, Grays Ferry Chemical Company. Harrison Brothers was one of the largest chemical companies in the South Philadelphia area, employing nearly 500 workers in its paint production operations by the 1890s. 1
 
John Harrison began producing sulfuric acid in Philadelphia in 1804.  In the years that followed his company moved several times, occupying sites in such neighborhoods as Spring Garden, Frankford, and Kensington. With the assistance of a German chemist, Eric Bollman, Harrison added a platinum still to his refinery. This change dramatically improved the distillation process and enabled the continuous production of acid.
2
 
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Edwin T. Freedley, Philadelphia and its Manufactures (1867), p. 199.

Harrison Bothers bought the property on Gray's Ferry Avenue in 1863 and began a period of expansion that continued through the 1900s.
3 By 1910, the massive complex included facilities for paint mixing, solvent production, sulfuric acid production, and various processes based on the by-products of these operations.
 
In its efforts to assume a dominant role in the chemical industry, the DuPont Company purchased Harrison Brothers in 1917. Paint manufacturing continued at the site until the 1950s, when DuPont began to concentrate on research and development projects. Today, the Marshall Laboratory is involved in fundamental research on paint manufacturing, the chemical and physical properties of paint, and product development. Unfortunately all nineteenth century structures have been demolished, the last in 1983, and have been replaced with contemporary structures and parking facilities.

1  Lorin Blodget, Census of Manufactures of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia, 1883), p. 103.
2   see Werner S. Zimmt, "Notes on the Development of [the] Chemical Industry in the Nineteenth Century through University-Industrial Interaction as Illustrated by Two Products made by John Harrison of Philadelphia," unpublished research paper, University of Pennsylvania, 1981.
3  Hexamer General Survey #162 "Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #631 (1872) "Gray's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #1206-1207 (1878)
Hexamer General Survey #1483-1484 (1880) "Gray's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #1767-1768 (1883) "Gray's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #1961-1962 (1885) "Grey's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #2195-2196 (1888) "Grey's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #2445-2446 (1891) "Grey's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #2777-2778 (1894) "Grey's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #2779-2780 (1894) "Grey's Ferry Chemical Works, Harrison Bros. & Co."


Update May 2007 (by Joel Spivak):
No change.