Explosives Plant, Nitro, 1918 West Virginia State Archives
West Virginia’s chemical industry is rooted in the 350-million-year-old brine deposits that made the region a leading salt producer in the early 1800s. Of these natural deposits, chlorine is used in water treatment and to make chlorine gas. Calcium and magnesium chlorides are used in road building, and salt brines contribute to the manufacturing of automobile gasoline, soda ash, hydrochloric acid and bleach. The chemical industry in West Virginia came into its own during World War I. Before the war, most of the chemicals used in U.S. manufacturing came from Germany. When the war with Germany broke out, chemical plants were established on the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.
The Kanawha Valley became known as the “Chemical Capital of the World” after chemists discovered they could convert the local natural gas supply to ethylene. West Virginia’s chemical industry grew steadily during the first half of the 1900s but then decline rapidly as companies moved plants to other states. However, the West Virginia chemical industry continues to be a leader in the fields of polymers and biochemical engineering.the 1950s. Despite the decline, West Virginia continues as a major exporter of coal for our country’s electric power plants and the world’s steel industries.