This year marks Chemical Engineering’s 120th anniversary. At this extraordinary milestone, I paused to look into the history of the publication and its evolution to where we are now. The magazine evolved, changing its name to reflect changes and combinations of disciplines as industries grew into what we now collectively call the chemical process industries (CPI). Our publication has also grown to be much more than a magazine, into a brand that includes all the modern modes of sharing information online, in-person and still also in print. The one thing that has remained the same over the years is the publication’s dedication to serve our CPI readers.
In September of 1902, the first issue of Electrochemical Industry was published to serve those applying the principles of electrochemistry in industry. Excerpts from that first issue indicate that growth in the electrochemical industry was largely aided by the growing availability of electric power, particularly from hydroelectric power such as at Niagara Falls. An article in that issue by professor C.F. Burgess states that “Chemical manufacturing was a number of years ago considered best developed when the processes were so simple that no power was necessary to assist in the chemical reactions, but this condition has changed and the chemical industries are now pre-eminently power-using industries.” In 1905, the publication’s coverage had outgrown its initial title, and the name was changed to Electrochemical and Metallurgical Industry.
In January 1910, the name changed again to Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering. One interesting report from that issue described “A continuous distillation column of unique design recently built by the firm of Walter E. Lummus… known as a three-product distilling machine.” The June 1910 issue described a new process for ammonia that had just been heard of from Europe to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen. While the prevailing thought was that the gases would be too slow to react, professor Fritz Haber showed that the reaction could occur under high pressures with a catalytic agent.
The July 1918 issue announced another name change to Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. Placing “chemical” first may be best explained by an excerpt from page 1 of that 1918 issue: “It must now be quite evident to any observer of current industrial development what we foresaw several years ago, namely, that chemical engineering is playing the dominant role of the day. Our country stands on the threshold of a marvelous development which has its basis in applied chemistry. There is scarcely an industry of any magnitude or importance that is without its chemical phase, and we are but beginning to appreciate the value of chemical control.”
In August 1946, the magazine’s name was changed to its current title Chemical Engineering.
History is both interesting and valuable. The history of technological developments and the people behind them is rich with lessons to be learned, some of which find new applications today. With this in mind, we plan to periodically look at some aspect of our industries’ history in Chem Chronicles — a column we introduced earlier this year, and can be found on page 26 of this issue. And as always, we strive to keep our readers up-to-date with new technologies, business news and practical information — “Essentials for the CPI Professional.” ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director