The Life of Herbert Henry Dow, Founder of Dow Chemical

On February 26 in the year 1866, one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the chemical industry was born in Ontario, Canada. His name was Herbert Henry Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, one of the largest chemical companies in the world.

Herbert Dow
Herbert Dow (Photo Credit: wiki commons)

Herbert was the son of an inventor and mechanical engineer father. While growing up, he was tutored by his father about the sciences especially electromechanical processes. At the age of 12, he invented an incubator for chicken eggs which he had been trying to perfect for about 40 times. He went on to study at Case Western Reserve University (then known as Case School of Applied Science). After graduation, he became a college instructor and at the same time engaged in the research of the chemical bromine which was used as an ingredient in pharmaceutical products and in photographic materials.

In 1889, Herbert left the academe and founded the Canton Chemical Company which went bankrupt within the year. The following year, he established Midland Chemical Company after he learned the process of electrolysis to produce sodium hydroxide and chlorine from brine. When his financial backers refused to extend additional funding for the untimely diversification, he left the company and founded Dow Chemical Company in 1897.

Through the succeeding years, Herbert worked very hard, almost spending 18 hours a day. Eventually, his chemical company became successful in the commercialization of bleach from brine. It earned a lot of money to be able to purchased Midland Chemical Company. Later, it diversified into organic chemicals such as dyes and phenol.

In the early 1900s, A German company flooded the American market with very cheap bromine, the principal product of Dow Chemical. Instead of running the government for protection, he ingeniously purchased very large quantities of this underpriced bromine and exported them back to Europe at a profit. The German company found itself fighting for life in its home turf and raised the price of its bromine. By then, Dow Chemical had already carved a large market share both in the American and European market.

Herbert died in 1930 at the age of 64. He had seven children with his wife Grace. In 2017, Dow Chemical was ranked #196 in the Fortune Global 500 List with revenues of $48 billion and over 56,000 employees worldwide.


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