History of Explosives and Blasting
In the US and Canada alone, blasters use more than 6 billion pounds of explosives and 75 million detonators per year. Coal mining accounts for two-thirds of consumed explosives of which more than 80% of it is ANFO.
Today, sophisticated explosive materials and new technologies are being utilized to improve the quality of life for all of us. Computers are used to: drill, log and monitor blastholes — automate blending and delivery with bulk trucks — determine bench heights and face conditions — analyze production efficiency, design blast patterns — and more.
The time line below presents the history of the explosives industry... a tradition of excellence in mining, quarrying, construction, and many other pursuits involving the peaceful use of explosives to break rock in service to mankind.
50 B.C. Early form of seismoscope used by Chang Heng in China.
668 A.D. "Greek-fire" used in battle.
1200 A.D. Arabian author Abd Allah records use of saltpeter as main ingredient of black powder.
13th Century, Chinese use "Roman Candles" in seige of Kai-Feng Fu.
1242 English Friar Roger Bacon publishes gunpowder formula.
1380 German Franciscan Monk, Berthold Schwarts developed gunpowder and its use in guns.
German Franciscan Monk
1627 First recorded use of black powder for rock blasting (Hungary).
1670 Black powder use spreads to tin mines of Cornwall England by German miners.
1675 First powder mill in U.S. constructed in Milton, Mass.
1696 First recorded use of black powder for road construction in Switzerland.
1745 Doctor Watson of British Royal Society explodes black powder with an electric spark.
1749 Hungarian Miners introduce chisel bit.
1750 American inventor Benjamin Franklin encases and compresses powder in cartridges.
1773 Black powder first used in U.S. at Copper Mine in Connecticut.
1785 Machine to detect earthquake vibrations invented.
1818-1821 First use of black powder in construction of road tunnel in Pennsylvania.
1830 Moses Shaw of New York patents electric firing of black powder.
William Bickford of Cornwall, England invents Safety Fuse.
1832 Dr. Robert Hare of University of Pennsylvania demonstrates bridge wire electric blasting cap.
1841 Milne invents "Seismometer" to detect ground vibrations by earthquakes.
1846 Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero discovers nitroglycerine.
1849 Jonathan Couch patents first practical American percussion-style steam powered rock drill.
1861 First practical use of piston-type compressed air mechanical drill in 8-mile long Mount Cenis Tunnel in the Alps.
1863 Wilbrand invents Trinitrotoluene (TNT).
1864 Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel develops first detonating blasting cap.
The Father of Explosives
1866 Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel invents dynamite by mixing kieselguhr with nitroglycerine.
1866 First U.S. plant to make nitroglycerine, Little Ferry, NJ.
1869 First use of diamond drills for prospecting and blasthole drilling.
1870 First U.S. dynamite plant, Giant Powder Co., San Francisco, California.
1871 Simon Ingersoll patents tripod mount for steam powered rock drill.
1872 Gunpowder Trade Association formed in U.S.
1875 Nobel patents blasting gelatine.
1878 Rack bar electric blasting machine developed by H. Julius Smith.
1884 Ammonium Nitrate (AN) becomes widely used in dynamite formulations.
1885 Two component explosives used in New York Harbor.
1888 Nobel invents ballistite, a dense smokeless powder.
1885 Permitted explosives officially recognized in Europe.
1890 First stoper drill with hammering action and airleg feed introduced by C.H. Shaw.
1896 First successful hammer drill with hollow steel patented by J. George Leyner.
1902 Detonating cord introduced in Europe.
1907 Consumption of black powder in U.S. more than 287 million pounds.
1908 U.S. Geological Survey assigned task of testingexplosives for use in underground coal mines.
1910 Mine accident work transferred to U.S. Bureau of Mines.
1912 Government orders Breakup of duPont. Creation of Hercules and Atlas Powder.
1912 Lightweight hand-held (Jackhammer) sinker drill invented.
1913 Insitute of Makers of Explosives (IME) formed in Chicago.
Cordeau, a TNT filled, lead-sheathed detonating cord, introduced in U.S.
First wild oil well fire put out by M. Kinley with explosives in California.
1914 Fifty-one mile Panama Canal opens, largest engineering project to date, using more than 67 million pounds of dynamite.
1917 German scientist L. Mintrop invents first portable seismograph.
U.S. Explosives Act sets regulations for purchases.
1919 Three component vibration recorder used by General Crushed Stone Co.
1920’s Cambridge Vibrograph developed to record vertical vibrations.
Falling Pin "Seismograph" used by General Crushed Stone.
1921 U.S. National Academy of Sciences studies Ammonium Nitrate (AN) after explosion in Oppau, Germany.
1924 First use of seismograph for oil prospecting by Gulf Production.
Largest industrial blast to date in U.S. fired at California Blue Diamond quarry using 328,000 lbs. of dynamite 1924.
1926 Blasting cap safety education program launched by IME
Mid 1920’s Liquid Oxygen based explosives commercialized in U.S.
1927 History of Explosives Industry in America published by IME.
1928 Detachable drill bits introduced at Anaconda Copper Mine, Butte, Montana.
1930 U.S. Bureau of Mines forms geophysical section headed by Dr. F. Lee.
Early 1930’s Jackleg drill introduced.
1931 Fiberboard cases approved for dynamite shipping.
1933 Roller cone bits introduced in oil fields.
1935 U.S. Geological Survey develops blast vibration machine — cost $25,000.
1935 duPont introduces first commercially successful non-nitroglycerin ammonium nitrate (AN) blasting agent.
1936 IME establishes fume classes for explosives in underground mines.
1938 Modern PETN-filled fabric-covered detonating cord introduced in U.S.
1939 U.S. Bureau of Mines begins work on vibration standards.
Modern plastic explosives invented during WWII.
1940’s Self propelled open pit rock drills introduced.
Use of tungsten carbide bits began in mining in Sweden.
1946 Short interval millisecond delay electric blasting caps introduced.
1947 Industry assists with federal investigation of Texas City, Texas — Ammonium Nitrate explosion.
1948 Pennsylvania issues regulations limiting blast vibrations.
First shot on Crazy Horse monument South Dakota.
U.S. production of ammonium nitrate (AN) for fertilizer totally converted to prilling method.
Crazy Horse Memorial - 2003
1950 First portable 3 component monitor developed,
the Leet Seismograph weighs 65 lbs.
1952 New Jersey issues regulations on seismic effects and airblast.
1955 Maumee Collieriers Drilling & Blasting Superintendent Bob Akre introduces "Akremite" at Coal Show in Cleveland, Ohio.
1955 Down hole drill introduced using high-pressure portable air compressors.
1956 First use of ANFO by U.S. Steel Corp.’s Oliver Mining Division.
Dr. Mel Cook introduces Slurry to mining.
1957 Underground explosives consumption reaches 100 million pounds in the United States.
First bulk vehicles blow mixed ANFO down-the-hole at Iron Ore Co. of Canada.
1959 Roseberg, Oregon fire and explosives truck explosion (Download Full Story).
August 7, 1959
Thirty-nine dynamite plants operating in the United States.
1950’s. High-speed photography for blast analysis introduced.
Late 1950’s Prilled AN fuel mixture begins to replace dynamite.
Bulk trucks and loaders developed.
1960’s Tunnel boring machines begin to seriously impact the use of explosives in large tunnel jobs.
1964 Dromedary trucks used to haul explosives approved by US ICC.
1967 Shock tube-type non-electric delay detonators introduced in Sweden.
1969 Emulsion explosives introduced.
1960’s & 70’s Large rotary drills with drag bits and roller cone bits come into use.
1971 Emulsion ANFO blends introduced.
1972 Lang & Favreau introduce Computer Modeling of Blast Design.
1973 Electronic sequential blasting introduced at first Kentucky Blasters Conference.
Largest pre-production shot to date - 4 million pounds at Old Reliable Mine in Arizona.
1970’s Hydraulic powered drifter drills come into use.
Early 1970’s. First electronic recording seismographs developed by Dallas Instruments.
1974 British Institute of Explosives Engineering established.
Shock tube-type non-electric delay detonators introduced in U.S.
The Society of Explosives Engineers officially formed to "advance the art and science of explosives engineering" on August 20, 1974 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
1977 First commercial use of glass "bubbles."
1978 OSMR created under U.S. Dept of Interior. MSHA created under Dept of Labor.
J. Wiss & P. Lineham complete research on controlling vibrations through shot design for USBM.
Twenty-six story hotel, tallest steel structure demolished to date using explosives, Oklahoma City.
1979 IME member and S.E.E. Director Deane Boddorff demonstrate easy removal of taggants from dynamite for U.S. Senate Committee.
1980 Bulk Blends introduced.
Dr. Per-Anders Persson of Sweden, inventor of the Nonel (non-electric) blasting system, receives Society of Explosives Engineers’ first Distinguished Service Award.
1980’s Digital sampling seismographs developed.
Drill monitoring equipment first used.
Commercial use of computers to improve blast timing patterns and blast shot plans introduced.
1985 Society of Explosives Engineers members assist with rescue and clean-up efforts after 5,000 die in Mexico City earthquake. (Download Full Story)
September 20, 1985
Mexico City, Mexico
1987 Largest underground shot in Western Europe 628,000 pounds shot in Ireland.
1988 Laser profiling for blast design and analysis, developed in Britain, introduced in the United States.
1989 Society of Explosives Engineers assists Congressional Committee with investigation of USS Iowa explosion.
Late-1980’s Electronic delay detonators (EDD’s) introduced.
1991 Industry works with USDOT to adopt HM 181, UN classifications for explosives packaging.
1992 Explosives used to extinguish most of 700 Kuwaiti oil well fires after Gulf War.
1990’s Use of automated drilling, GPS hole spotting and PLC operated drills for surface mining.
1994 Society of Explosives Engineers Education Foundation formed.
First Annual Golf Outing in memory of former member Jerry McDowell raises funds for SEE Education Foundation scholarships.
1995 One dynamite plant still operating in the United States.
Australia’s largest shot ever, 1.25 million pounds of explosives at Ord River project.
U.S. Bureau of Mines dismantled despite strong industry and ISEE support.
1996 ISEE goes online at www.isee.org/
IME video released, Explosives: The Power Tool, cosponsored by ISEE and Nobel Insurance.
1998 Virginia Polytechnic and University of Missouri-Rolla are the first student chapters chartered by ISEE.
International Society of Explosives Engineers (ISEE) celebrates 25th Annual Conference and 25 years of service to the explosives industry.
2001 ISEE members assist with World Trade Center clean-up efforts.
ISEE members assist in anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
2004 Public Education Committee of ISEE releases DVD "Understanding Vibrations from Blasting" .