ABOUT The (Short) History of Carbide
When a national defense project in early 1941 transformed Louisville, Kentucky into a major production site for synthetic rubber, an effort was soon underway for the necessary components. Toward that cause, National Carbide Company announced that it would construct a plant in southwest Louisville to make calcium carbide and its derivative, acetylene gas, an essential component for the production of synthetic rubber. The process for manufacturing calcium carbide requires large quantities of electrical energy, and the local utility, Louisville Gas & Electric Company, announced that it would build a large electrical generating station along the Ohio River in the same area. DuPont was first to announce that it would build a plant nearby to produce the company's own formulation of synthetic rubber called neoprene. This announcement was followed by two more: B.F. Goodrich and National Synthetic Rubber Company would also build synthetic rubber plants. The industrial area would quickly become known, as it is today, as "Rubbertown". Rubbertown in 1941 would soon prove to be critical to the nation with the advent of war.
At the outbreak of WWII the demand for synthetic rubber rose rapidly as Japanese expansion had virtually cut off supplies of natural rubber. The federal government quickly initiated a plan to acquire these plants and expand their production capabilities. At the end of the war, these plants were leased back to their original owners.
National Carbide soon became a division of the Air Reduction Company, which in 1951 had constructed a calcium carbide and acetylene plant in Calvert City, Kentucky. Eventually, in 1956, Air Reduction Company became better known by the acronym AIRCO. During that period, acetylene from calcium carbide was produced at both plants to serve the chemical industry, while calcium carbide also served the industrial gas industry supplying acetylene used in oxyacetylene cutting and welding.
As time passed, petrochemical-based processes became the predominant route and acetylene sales to the chemical industry began to drop. However. calcium carbide sales to the industrial gas industry continued at a steady pace.
In the late 1970s, AIRCO was purchased by the British Oxygen Company (BOC). Soon after, new markets for calcium carbide made their debut in North America The production of iron and steel began to demand significant quantities. BOC continued its ownership until 1989, when it spun off its calcium carbide division along with one other operating division. These divisions were sold to a group of private investors and managers, and the new company was named The Carbide/Graphite Group Inc. In 2002, the assets of the carbide business were acquired by a new group of private investors and incorporated under the name Carbide Industries LLC. The Louisville and Calvert City operations today employ over 130 people.
Pictured: The carbide plant in the west side of Louisville on the Ohio River known as Rubbertown in January, 1946. What is now the chill mold cooling area was then taken up by a row of 7 small carbide furnaces, as evidenced by the row of smokestacks. An eighth furnace, the predecessor of the current day furnace, will eventually be built, rendering all of these furnaces obsolete.