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This 1910 brochure explained how to farm with dynamite

Illustration for article titled This 1910 brochure explained how to farm with dynamite

In the early 20th century, Du Pont released a series of pamphlets touting what it claimed to be the greatest agricultural innovation since the plow: dynamite. These pamphlets explain how explosives could help with everything from clearing tree stumps to regenerating soil.

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This rather attractive brochure from Du Pont, Farming with Dynamite advertises the many agricultural benefits of their "Red Cross" dynamite. Dynamite, Du Pont claimed, wasn't just good for clearing obstacles on the farm; dynamite could be used to blast holes for planting and even for turning hard clay fields into arable farmland:

Illustration for article titled This 1910 brochure explained how to farm with dynamite

Land that has a waterproof subsoil is practically worthless, as it holds the surface water in such quantities on level ground, that the roots of trees and plants are rotted away; on hilly ground, it allows the surface water to run off, thus preventing the storage of moisture, with the result that vegetation dies quickly in hot weather. Such land can be rendered fertile at once by blasting with "Red Cross" Dynamite. The subsoil is completely broken up and the dry, dead top soil converted into a rich loam for less than the amount of the taxes for a year or two.

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In fact, Du Pont's ad campaign made dynamite sound like the indispensable tool for cultivation:

"Red Cross" Dynamite not only excavates the required hole, but also loosens the ground for yards around, killing all grubs, and forming a spongy reservoir for moisture. That is why trees planted in dynamited holes live and thrive.

A whole row of tree holes can be excavated in one instant when charged with "Red Cross" Dynamite.

Old trees are benefited by exploding small charges under them, or between the rows. This keeps the ground loose, and free from grubs.

A well known fruit grower reports that he planted peach trees some years ago to determine whether anything was to be gained by using dynamite. A number of trees were planted in holes by detonating a charge of explosives to make the holes, and others were planted in holes of the regulation size, dug by hand. Three years later the trees planted in the blasted holes were strong and healthy, each producing between five and six bushels of very fine peaches. The other trees planted on the same ground without blasting, bore no peaches, both fruit and leaves having shriveled up and dropped off during the dry season.

In 1912, Du Pont published a full handbook instructing farmers on dynamite-aided agriculture (which you can read in its entirety on Google Books). While dynamite was certainly a common enough tool in early 20th century American agriculture, it appears that Du Pont's claims about dynamite's transformative powers on soil were a wee bit overstated. In fact, Du Pont sponsored a study from 1911 to 1913 to determine the effects of dynamite on soil, and found no significant improvement in crop yields, moisture, or nitrate levels from dynamited soil. On top of that, two years down the road, the soil that had been dynamited was in a poorer physical condition than soil that hadn't been dynamited, described as "compacted and puddled." Plus, dynamiting wasn't cheap at $12.20 per acre for dynamite and an additional $5 per acre for labor. (The use of dynamite in the improvement of heavy clay soils, vio Ecochem.) Plowing by explosion sounds like a great deal more fun, but boring old digging won this particular round.

Farming with Dynamite [Project Gutenberg] Hat tip to Alex!

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DISCUSSION

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Chip Overclock®

1. When a friend of mine was young enough to know better, he and his buddies broke into an explosives locker at a nearby rural construction site that the workers had failed to hoist above ground with a crane. After they busted open the lock with several mighty blows, they discovered the locker was full not of dynamite as they had expected but blasting caps.

2. When I was a lad my dad and I were cleaning out an out building on rural property that had been in my mom's family for generations. We found an old, greasy, paper bag on an upper shelf. It was full of blasting caps. We backed away slowly. He and I dug a good hole at the edge of the property. Dad carefully carried the bag from the building and laid it in the hole. We very slowly buried it. I sorta wonder if that was really the right way to dispose of them. But I never heard of anyone getting blowed up.