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Herman Frasch

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Herman Frasch

Herman Frasch
Born December 25, 1851
Oberrot bei Gaildorf, Württemberg
Died May 1, 1914
Engineering career
Significant projects Frasch Process
Significant awards Perkin Medal (1912)
Herman Frasch [or Hermann Frasch] (December 25, 1851, Oberrot bei Gaildorf, Württemberg – May 1, 1914, Paris) was a mining engineer and inventor known for his work with petroleum and sulphur.


Early life

He was the son of John and Frieda Henrietta (Bauer) Frasch. Both his parents were natives of Stuttgart. His father was burgomaster of Gaildorf. Herman attended the Latin school in Gaildorf and was then apprenticed to a bookseller in nearby Schwäbisch Hall.[1]:47-53

At the age of 16, he left the apprenticeship and sailed from Bremen to New York, then took the train to Philadelphia.[1]:47-53 After his arrival in the United States, he entered the laboratory of John Michael Maisch at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Here he worked for several years, perfecting his knowledge of pharmaceutical chemistry. He was notable for his daring and originality in experimentation. His interests turned gradually to industrial chemistry, a branch of the science which was then coming into prominence.

Engineering career

Oil career

In 1874 he established his own laboratory. He received his first patent, covering a process for utilizing tin scrap, in 1874. His second patent was on a process for purifying paraffin wax in 1876. Both of these became important to industry. Paraffin wax was formerly a waste by-product in oil refining, but with his invention became capable of utilization in the manufacture of candles and for other industrial purposes. He also developed paraffin paper, which had great and varied uses as a waterproof packing for foodstuffs, confectionery, etc., and made possible the safe transportation and preservation of many substances, otherwise perishable. Other earlier inventions were connected with the production of oil, salt and white lead.

In 1885 he started the Imperial Oil Company, Petrolia, Ontario. The oil from Petrolia contained up to 0.7% sulfur, which gave the petroleum made from it a strong odor and the name skunk oil, which was practically not marketable. After several tries he was able to desulfurize the petroleum by reacting the oil vapor with a mixture of iron, lead, and copper oxide. The formed sulfides were roasted in air to remove the sulfur, to reform the oxides which could be then reused. His product became a serious competitor to Pennsylvania oil.

The Standard Oil of John D. Rockefeller in Lima suffered from the same problem. Thus, Rockefeller bought the Empire Oil Company and employed Herman Frasch to solve this problem with John Wesley Van Dyke. The Hermann process worked for the first time in an industrial scale in 1888. As he was paid in shares of Standard Oil, Herman Frasch became rich with the success of his method.

Sulphur career

During the search for oil in Louisiana, near the present-day city of Sulphur, sulfur was found under a layer of 200–300 m of quicksand. All attempts to get to the sulfur with conventional mining shafts ended in disaster. Herman Frasch bought the surrounding area, but the sulfur containing area was not on his property. On October 20, 1890, he took out three patents for the Frasch Process. He then made a contract with the owners of the sulfur deposit.

He erected a plant at the location of the sulfur deposits, and, by sending down superheated water through a boring of 1,000 feet, he melted the sulfur. The melted sulfur then ascended to the surface through an inner tube in the boring, and was pumped into bins several feet high, in which it solidified, and the blocks were later broken up and loaded directly onto rail cars. The result of the invention was a reduction of the importation of sulphur into the United States to less than one-tenth of its former proportions, and a corresponding increase in home production. The first sulfur was extracted in 1894. High water and energy consumption, as well as the presence of toxic hydrogen sulfide, were problems which had to be solved.

Herman Frasch became head of the Union Sulphur Company which dominated the sulfur market until his patents ran out in 1911. Herman Frasch was accounted as the sulphur king. After the sulfur deposits were exhausted the company changed its focus from sulfur to oil.

Frasch was awarded the Perkin Medal in 1912. Frash Elementary school, a public school in Calcasieu Parish, and Frasch Hall, a building at McNeese State University were named after him. Frasch's surname is often misspelled Frash.

Herman Frasch died at his home in Paris on May 1, 1914 and was buried in Gaildorf. The bodies of both he and his widow, Elizabeth Blee Frasch, were brought to the United States and re-interred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York following the death of Elizabeth in Paris in 1924 .[1]:242-243


  1. ^ a b c Herman Frasch - The Sulphur King. Sutton, Wm. R., Ph.D. and Keene II, L. Russell. Kiwi Publishing Company, Woodbridge, Conn. 2013
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