Friday, February 26, 2016

Herbert Henry Dow's 150th Birthday

by Bryan Whitledge

Herbert H. Dow in his orchard
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Herbert Henry Dow. His initial endeavors to extract bromine from the brine found deep beneath Midland County, Michigan nearly 120 years ago have developed into the third largest chemical corporation in the world. During Dow's lifetime, his company started operations in Mount Pleasant and around the world, expanded the range of chemical products they manufactured, and helped the US war effort in the First World War supplying the US with supplies necessary for victory in Europe. Dow also famously beat a German bromide-producing cartel at its own game when the German cartel attempted to dump bromides on the world market to undercut Dow's prices and drive the Midland company out of business. H. H. Dow oversaw the purchase of all of those cheap bromides as well as the resale of them at a slightly marked up price back to European markets.

But Herbert Henry Dow was not only a chemical-industrial business man. He was an avid botanist and pomologist who started an orchard on the land surrounding the Dow Homestead in Midland. While his orchard never thrived commercially, his experiments and scientific agricultural practices contributed to the body of knowledge about growing apples, pears, and plums. In addition to his orchard, H. H. Dow also extensively landscaped the property near his homestead, creating what has become the Dow Gardens. Inspired by gardens he visited abroad, Dow’s vision for the garden was always changing and his landscaper Elzie Cote was up for the task. With both his orchard and gardens, Dow closely observed the progress of the plantings and took meticulous notes to practice the best scientific botany and pomology he could. [1]

Herbert H. and Grace A.
Dow at the Dow Homestead
Herbert H. Dow’s legacy was cemented when his wife, Grace, started the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation in his memory. Since 1936, the Foundation has helped to enhance the lives of people in central Michigan and beyond. Today, the legacy of Herbert Henry Dow can be found throughout Michigan. At Central Michigan University specifically, the mark of H. H. Dow, his family, and his company permeates campus. From the Dow Science Complex and the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, to the Mary Dow Reading Room, named after his sister and former librarian at Central (1924-28) who moved to Midland in 1898 to be with her family, and several buildings designed by his son, the architect Alden B. Dow. The Clarke, in documenting the history of central Michigan also maintains materials related to H. H. Dow, including papers related to a 2013 exhibit about Dow's work mining brine form beneath Mount Pleasant.

While the legacy of H. H. Dow can be noted every day, the 150th anniversary of his birth gives us a chance to specifically reflect on the many contributions he made to more than just the chemical industry.

1. Nelb, Tawny Ryan. The Pines: 100 Years of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Homestead, Orchards, and Gardens. Midland, Mich. : The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, 1999.