Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, was born in Belleville, Ont. in 1866, the son of Joseph Dow, a master mechanic and sometime chemist. The younger Dow grew up in the United States and, after graduating from the Case School of Applied Science in Ohio, pioneered new processes to create chlorine chemicals and organic chemicals like phenol and indigo dye. The company also mined bromine, chlorine, sodium, calcium and magnesium from ancient sea brine, according to Chemical Heritage Foundation. In 1897, Dow incorporated his company, Dow Chemical Company, which was headquartered in Midland, Mich.
The Second World War accelerated chemical innovation, and Dow Chemical had the expertise to fulfill urgent demands for new materials. Dow contributed significantly to Canada’s postwar prosperity after being invited here in 1942 by the Canadian government to set up a styrene plant in Sarnia, Ont. Styrene was the raw material used for making synthetic rubber. One year later Dow Canada employed its first woman chemist, Barbara Buchanan. The 1950s saw more growth, including construction of a polystyrene plant, followed by ethylene, styrene and latex plants. Meanwhile, staffing grew to 700 employees across Canada, according to The First 50 Years: Dow Canada 1942-1992.
Dow often came under fire for controversial operations, such as the manufacture of napalm and Agent Orange for use by the American military in the Vietnam War. In Canada, the Mercury Crisis of 1970 emerged after it was discovered that the Dow Chlor-Alkali Plant in Sarnia was discharging mercury into the St. Clair River and contaminating the local fishery, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since 1949, Dow Chemical had operated a mercury cell plant (another facility started operations in 1965), to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Mercury can be transformed by microorganisms into a water soluble, toxic substance that accumulates in the tissues of fish.
By the late 1950s, Dow was providing a full range of analytical services to the burgeoning oil and gas industry, as illustrated by this ad in Chemistry in Canada. It also created ubiquitous products like Styrofoam and iconic consumer products such as Saran Wrap and Ziploc. Today, Dow is a world leader in specialty chemicals, advanced materials, agrosciences, plastics, electronics, water, energy, coatings and agriculture.
In 2006, Dow Chemical Canada announced it would undergo restructuring and shut down its Sarnia operations to move its headquarters to Calgary. Today, the multinational giant reports annual sales of $57 billion and employs 54,000 people worldwide.