10 Chapter 10: SODIUM NITRITE TESTED IN MEAT CURING IN CHICAGO

Prof. Ignacy Moscicki (from http://natemat.pl/)
Prof. Ignacy Moscicki (from http://natemat.pl/)

 

In the early 1900’s, in Chicago, the powerful meat packing companies set up by Phil Armour, Gustav Swift and Edward Morris were all looking for ways to reduce steers to beef and hogs to pork in the quickest, most economical and the most serviceable manner.”   (The Indiana Gazette.  28 March 1924).

The earliest reference to a test of meat curing with sodium nitrite in the USA places a secret experiment conducted where sodium nitrite was used to cure meat in 1905. [1] This was probably done in Chicago.  When the “Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act” of 1906 was promulgated, it made the use of sodium nitrite in food illegal.  It was not specifically forbidden, but the act was applied, for example in the 1910 court case we just looked at, in such a way that it was seen as making its use in food illegal.

During the 1910’s a very interesting article appeared in Chicago that places a company with the technology to produce sodium nitrite in the same city.  It appeared in the American Food Journal of 15 February 1907 entitled “Cheap Nitrogen.”

It said that a Chicago-based company was producing nitric acid by the electric arc method invented by Prof. Mościcki of the University of Freiburg, Switzerland, that we looked at before.  The method, in reality, was able to produce both nitric and nitrous acid  (US patent US1097870) and dates back to 1901. (cesa-project.eu)  The article states that the process  made its production “cheap enough to be commercially applicable.”  (American Food Journal.  Vol 2.  No 2.  15 Feb 1907, p29)  The entrepreneur behind this company was William M. Thomas, who set an experimental plant up in Marshfield Avenue, Chicago.  His main goal was probably to produce fertilizer.  (Chicago Sunday Tribune, Nov 10, 1907)

We have already referred to the electric arc method several times.  Mościcki, the inventor of the process was the former assistant to Józef Wierusz-Kowalski (1896), professor of physics, and rector (provost) at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Switzerland.

Prof Mościcki was an interesting person.  After a very successful academic career and a career as an inventor, he became the 3rd president of the second Polish Republic.  He was in office from 4 June 1926 to 30 September 1939.  Another interesting fact relates directly to his invention is that in Bern, Switzerland, his patent application was handled by none other than Albert Einstein.

“In 1905 Einstein Prof Mościcki’s special arc furnace which employed a rotating electric arc and was used for the production of nitric (and nitrous) acid…” ” The field generated by an electromagnet was used to rotate the arc. The 26-year-old physicist (Einstein) and the still young (38) but already renowned inventor and scholar (Prof Mościcki’s)  met and discussed the patented idea. Einstein was curious to know why an electric arc changed its orientation in a magnetic field.” Prof Mościcki’s became a successful businessman in Switzerland.   (Zofia Gołąb-Meyer Marian.  2006)  [2]

When we looked at the career of Ladic Nachtmullner, we have seen that the first production of nitrous acid in Switzerland was in 1910, during World War One based on the invention of Prof Mościcki.  This happened “immediately after his procedure was patented.” “A factory was opened in Chippis in Wallis canton, Switzerland.”  “In the subsequent years, this procedure was substantially perfected and nitrous acid could be supplied not only to Switzerland but also to neighbouring countries.”  (cesa-project.eu)

What is interesting in relation to Chicago is that the American Food Journal article says that the Chicago company was already in production by 1907 manufacturing nitric acid “in a small way” from free nitrogen, using the technology invented by Mościcki’s.  (American Food Journal.  Vol 2.  No 2.  15 Feb 1907, p29)

In the USA the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen was a priority and they knew the lagged behind Germany.  The first US plant for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen was built in 1917 by the American Nitrogen Products Company at Le Grande, Washington.  It could produce about one ton of nitrogen per day.  In 1927 it was destroyed by a fire and was never rebuild. (Ernst, FA, 1928: 14)

An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer of 27 September 1923 reports that as a result of cheap German imports of sodium nitrite following the war, the American Nitrogen Products Company was forced to close its doors four years before the factory burned down. We will consider America’s response to these cheap imports momentarily. ( The Cincinnati Enquirer ( Cincinnati, Ohio), 27 September 1923. Page 14.)

We can conclude then with great certainty that there was at least one company in Chicago by 1907 that could produce sodium nitrite.  Was this venture funded by the meat packing companies?  It is a question for further discovery.  A much larger project got under way in 1917, but by 1923, the USA was not in a position to supply material quantities of sodium nitrite.

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Notes:

1. The secret 1905 curing test with sodium nitrite.

Upon inquiry, the author of the article who mentioned it explained that the article was not intended for wide circulation and it lacks verification of the source.  I, therefore, do not cite the reference, but I want to mention it.  Circumstantial evidence makes such a test in 1905 very likely plus, the date was probably not conceived out of thin air.

I mention it for several reasons.  Firstly, circumstantial evidence makes such a test in 1905 very likely plus, the date was probably not conceived out of thin air.  Secondly, the fact that the reference can not be verified fits the image of the meat curing industry at that time as a secretive fraternity, especially in light of the enormous amounts of money at stake on the one hand and on the other, both the public and governments negative perceptions about chemical preservatives generally and nitrite in particular at this time.  Verifiable references from this time are almost completely missing from historical records and conclusions are left, in large part, to inference.  Thirdly, I mention the 1905 US test because the person who wrote the article is a well-known and highly respected figure in the modern, international meat curing industry.  If anything, I trust his instincts that there is enough to the date for him to have mentioned it in an article. BACK TO POST

2. Prof. Mościcki

“As a young student of chemistry in St. Petersburg, Russia, Mościcki was an active socialist. Later, back in Poland, he participated in a failed attempt on the life of the tsarist governor of Warsaw. In 1892, he was threatened with arrest and escaped to London where he met Józef Piłsudski, who was to become one of the most important people in Polish history. In 1920, Marshal Piłsudski led the forces that defeated the Soviet army at the Battle of Warsaw. This and subsequent battlefield successes led to Poland’s victory in the Polish/Soviet war and saved weakened by WWI Europe from the threat of Soviet conquest. After Piłsudski engineered a coup d’etat in Poland, Ignacy Mościcki was asked to become the president. He gave up his academic positions and served as president of the Republic from 1926 until the outbreak of the WWII in 1939. Among his other titles, Mościcki is known as the father of the chemical industry in Poland. A town in southern Poland (Mościce) is named after him. And one of his many patent applications was studied by a young technical expert, Albert Einstein, in Bern, Switzerland.”  (Zofia Gołąb-Meyer Marian.  2006)  BACK TO POST

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