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World War I (1914-1918)


West Virginia landscape
West Virginia landscape

Until World War I (1914-1918), extractive industries dominated the nonfarm economic life of West Virginia. These endeavors, especially coal mining, continued to be important after the war, but manufacturing, stimulated by the war, increased in prominence. On the eve of the war, West Virginia had 2,749 manufacturing establishments, with 71,000 workers. The major manufacturing industries, with the value of their products, were iron and steel, $21 million; tinplate and terneplate (a lead-tin alloy plate), $15 million; glass, $14.5 million; and flour and grist mills, $7 million. In number of employees, glass held first place with 9,000. It was followed by car and general repair work, 8,500; iron and steel, 4,300; and grist mills, 3,300. By 1914 thousands of West Virginians had left the farms for work in industry. World War I stimulated most existing industries in the state and also gave birth to new manufacturing industries, the most important of which were chemical production and electric power.

During the war, when chemicals could not be imported from Germany, chemical plants were established in the Kanawha Valley, which in time became a world center for the manufacture of basic chemicals. The federal government constructed a high explosives plant at Nitro and a mustard gas plant at Belle. Nitro, a town of about 25,000 people and 3,400 buildings, sprang up almost overnight in 1918. The chemical industry later expanded along the Ohio River and into the Northern Panhandle. It depended largely upon rich brines in the Kanawha Valley and great beds of rock salt on the upper Ohio and extending eastward to Monongalia County. In addition to the chemicals, the plants manufactured many other products, including compounds used to make rubber, plastics, and antifreeze. At Nitro and Parkersburg, raw cotton and wood pulp were processed into rayon. At Belle, beginning in the 1930s, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company used coal, water, and nitrogen to manufacture nylon, which replaced silk for many purposes. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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