Saturday, November 25, 2006

James Howden, nitro-glycerine chemist

From: "Andy Paterson"

Do you know the place and date of birth of James Howden, the Pacific Central Railroad chemist who did on-site production of nitro-glycerine, thus reducing accidents and speeding progress of tunnelling? I understand he died in San Francisco on 6 February 1874 but the obituaries are silent on his place and date of birth.

I have checked with Sacramento Public Library (who found his date of death) and the History Room at California State Library, which had only the same information as the Sacramento Public Library.

—Andy Paterson, Sydney, Australia


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

In researching a History Channel program a few years ago, I spent some time on Mr. Howden.

My notes reflect the following:

Howden was an English chemist, made dynamite by mixing nitroglycerine and sawdust; he then developed Hercules powder. (The Great Fire in San Francisco destroyed all original records of the California Powder Works at Santa Cruz, however I would guess that Howden first mixed nitro at San Francisco with a mealed powder made at Santa Cruz for his black Hercules powder.) (I would not be surprised to find that the owners of the Santa Cruz works were investors in the Hercules operation)

Howden built a nitro factory on land owned by John H. Baird, then President of the California Powder Works, near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The San Francisco City Directory of 1875 show the Hercules Powder Works on Central Road at Fourth Ave.; the California Powder Works was located across the street at 315 California St. In 1873, the SF Directory lists James Howden as Manager of the Hercules Works, and his brother William as Assistant Manager. In 1874 the estate of James Howden is named the proprietor of the Hercules Powder Works; that same directory shows the Howden brothers (William and James) as owners of the Golden Gate Chemical Works (it mfg. the acid for dynamite mfg)

I would suppose that Mr. Howden died in 1874 from the process of hard drinking, as that year is the year that Thomas Powning was made superintendent of the Hercules Works. Tom then died in 1875.

If you need an exact date of James Howden's birth, I will attempt to find it for you.

—G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Cal.

11/26/2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

Searching thru Scottish records, I did find that William and James Howden were the sons of Matthew Howden and Ann Beath, who owned the home at 50 Minto St., Edinburgh, Scotland.

Seaching the 1841 Scottish census, I find Matthew and Ann Howden living at 50 Minto St., in Edinburgh. They have a son, James, age 5. That would have him being born about 1836.

The only published reference that I can find to James Howden is Scots in the American West, 1783-1883 by David Dobson, published in Baltimore by the Genealogical Publishing Co. in 2003. It lists Mr. Howden on page 67; I do not have a copy of that book, so I cannot tell you what data it may have.


11/26/2006 11:20 AM  

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