Historical Markers StoppingPoints.com Historical Markers, Sightseeing & Points of Interest Scenic Roads & Points of Interest
About Us | Photo Gallery | Free Widgets | Featured States | Search Site
Home North Carolina Rockingham County City of Eden Historical Markers Calcium Carbide

Calcium Carbide

Church Street, Eden, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 36° 30' 16.452", -79° 46' 20.8668"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Industrial experiment nearby in 1892 led to discovery of process for its manufacture. First produced commercially by James T. Morehead."
     The Willson Aluminum Company was formed in December 1890, with financial help from North Carolina businessman James Turner Morehead (1840-1908) and others, with the goal of producing aluminum economically. A plant was established in Spray (present-day Eden). Aluminum making turned out to be unsuccessful but the venture provided the fortunate accident leading to the production of calcium carbide.

     On May 2, 1892, in Spray, Canadian chemist Thomas L. Willson (1860-1915) accidentally produced calcium carbide and acetylene with an electric-arc furnace. In August 1892, Willson applied for a patent for the new process. By 1897 acetylene was competing with electricity in providing lighting, especially in rural areas and those places where gasoline was unavailable. Portable acetylene generators provided light to mines, bicycles, automobiles, and railroads. Willson developed the acetylene gas buoy as a maritime navigational aid that was used worldwide. Oxygen combined with acetylene made for faster welding and cutting of metals. Acetylene was also an important material in the creation of organic chemicals.

     Willson and Morehead promoted calcium carbide and acetylene when no one purchased their patents. The first sale of calcium carbide came in January 1894 when Willson sold one ton to a New York chemical supply house. In August 1894 the two men sold the patents for utilizing calcium and acetylene in lighting to the Electrogas Company but kept the manufacturing rights. That same month, Morehead, using borrowed money, completed the first commercial calcium carbide plant by expanding the Spray operation. The plant burned in 1896. Morehead later built a larger plant in Virginia. A factory in West Virginia made ferro-alloys using methods developed at Spray. Morehead sold the rights to the Union Carbide Company, formed in 1898. That company eventually became Union Carbide Corporation. It was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 320-321—sketch by Lindley S. Butler
Greensboro News and Record, April 30 and May 3, 1998
Lindley S. Butler, Rockingham County: A Brief History (1982)
New York Times, December 22, 1915
National Historic Chemical Landmarks website:

Calcium Carbide Historical Marker Location Map, Eden, North Carolina