Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Herman Frasch (1851-1914) invented the hot-water process for mining sulphur that permitted the exploitation of the rich deposits beneath the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico. The Frasch process enabled the United States to become self-sufficient in the production of this important industrial mineral and the major supplier to the world. Frasch's new idea was to inject steam into the underground deposit to melt the sulphur and then pump the liquid to the surface. He patented the process in 1891 and first demonstrated its technical success at Sulphur, Louisiana in 1894. Initially plagued with problems due to the high cost of coal to fire the boilers which produced the super-heated water, the process became a commercial successful operation after the discovery of plentiful supplies of cheap fuel in the nearby Beaumont oil field after the turn of the century. From then until shortly before Frasch's death, his Union Sulphur Company had an effective monopoly of United States production of sulphur. The plentiful supply of domestic sulphur produced by the Frasch process allowed the tremendous expansion of American chemical production, especially in fertilizers, paper milling, and sulphuric acid, the principal industrial acid used in the chemical industry. Born in Germany, Frasch came to the United States in 1868. His early career was as a pharmacist, but an interest in the then new process of petroleum refining brought him to Cleveland in 1877 where he began a long career in the refineries of the Standard Oil Company. Before starting the sulphur project in Louisiana, Frasch had achieved a major success in developing a process for making the sulphur-laden crude oils of Ohio, the second major American oil field, into marketable products, particularly a clean-burning, odor-free kerosene. For his contributions to the development of American industrial chemistry, he was awarded the Perkin Medal in 1912. The young immigrant became a successful chemist, inventor, and entrepreneur.