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The Hazard Powder Company and the Hazardville Gunpowder Industry (1836-1913)

Gunpowder was manufactured by mixing ground water, sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter and then further grinding this mix using heavy vertical roller wheels rolling through a circular bed trough.  The mix had to be wet or grinding would cause it to explode.  The wet powder was then pressed hydraulically into blocks.  The blocks were then cracked or "corned" with zinc rollers to a coarse powder which was then screened to obtain different size grains for different uses.  Grain sizes could range from fine powder for small arms to softball size chunks for large cannons.  The cracked powder had to be dried and tumbled or "glazed," then sifted again and packed into canisters, kegs, and barrels.

In 1836 Allen Loomis purchased 500 acres in Powder Hollow.  Loomis took on two partners, Parkes and Neeland, and Allen A. Denslow of New Haven.  In 1836 the business incorporated as Loomis, Denslow and Company.  Skilled gunpowder workers were brought in from Faversham, Kent, England and a small mill was put into operation.  In 1837 Colonel Augustus George Hazard acquired one quarter interest in the company.

The Glaze
A postcard showing the "Glaze," where gunpowder was tumbled to obtain uniform grain size and shape.

Augustus Hazard was born in South Kensington, Rhode Island on April 28, 1802.  His family moved to a farm in Columbia, Connecticut.  Augustus spent five years in house painting, then, at the age of 20, moved to Savannah, Georgia to deal in paints and oils.  He was very successful, moving to New York as a merchandising agent and part owner of packet ships between New York and Savannah.  He picked up the title of Colonel as a result of his association with the Georgia state military.

The business panic of 1837 caused Colonel Hazard huge losses, but he was able to fully recover, pay off all debts, and emerge stronger than before the panic.  In 1843 the Hazard Powder Company was incorporated with Colonel Hazard as principal owner.  He moved to Enfield, built a very fine mansion (since destroyed by fire) and was visited by many important persons, including Daniel Webster, Samuel Colt, and Jefferson Davis.

The gunpowder business was - excuse the pun - booming.  The war with Mexico in 1846, the 1849 California gold rush, and the 1854 Crimean War all brought huge orders for gunpowders of all types.  In 1849 Paul Greeley, Tudor and Frank Gowdy, and Wells Loomis formed a competing company - the Enfield Powder Company.  It was taken over by the Hazard Powder Company in 1854.

During this time Hazardville got its name.  The details are fuzzy as to exactly where and when the vote was taken, but the village at the west end of Enfield was named after Colonel Hazard by popular vote of the residents.

The Hazard Powder Company survived the depression of 1857 because of strong demand for powder for railroad construction and metal mining in the west, as well as cooperation with du Pont.

Colonel Hazard's personal fortunes were not so good.  Both his sons died - one of consumption and one in an explosion at the mill.  Gunpowder is very dangerous to work with.  Numerous safety precautions were taken by the Hazard Powder Company to prevent explosions.  Iron or steel tools were not allowed, as sparks could occur if they banged together or against a nail or spike.  The men who kept the powder wet while it was ground sat on one-legged stools so that they would fall over and wake themselves up if they dozed off - a few bruises were better than blowing up!  Employees were not allowed to bring pipes or matches into the hollow.  Despite these precautions and others, explosions were expected.  Large stone blast walls separated buildings so that an explosion in one would not destroy another.  Each operation in the process was not only housed in a separate building, but was split into multiple buildings so that destruction of one building would not stop production.  And the buildings themselves were designed to be easily put back together - walls would fall outward relatively intact and the frames were huge so that any fire could be put out before enough damage occured to them to require their replacement.  Despite the explosions that did occur, the Hazardville operation was unusually safe with only 67 deaths during nearly eight decades of operation.

The gunpowder business in Hazardville was a million dollar business by the outbreak of the Civil War.  Wartime capacity in Hazardville reached 12,500 pounds per day.  At this time the plants were described as follows: This Company has eighteen sets of rolling mills with thirty-six iron wheels, each wheel weighing eight tons; seven granulating mills; five screw press buildings; and three hydraulic presses of 500 tons each, in different and separate buildings; and about fifty buildings used for dusting, assorting, drying, mixing, pulverizing, glazing, and packing houses-with extensive saltpeter refineries and magazines, cooperage, iron, woodworking, and machine shops- in all, about 125 buildings at their main works at Hazardville and Scitico, extending over a mile and a half in length and half a mile in width.  To propel this vast amout of machinery, twenty-five water wheels and three steam engines are required.

The end of the Civil War brought hard times.  The government auctioned off huge amounts of surplus powder.  Competition became brutal as the powder companies fought for survival.  Colonel Hazard died in May of 1868 without leaving a clear successor.  A huge explosion destroyed much of the plant in 1871.  In 1873 there was another business panic.  In 1876 the stockholders sold out to du Pont, although the sale was not publicly known for another decade.

Mill Wreck
A postcard showing an exploded rolling mill.  Note the undamaged building frame - even though 8 ton iron wheels lay in a jumble inside!

In 1872, just prior to du Pont's purchase of the Hazard Powder Company, du Pont, the Hazard Powder Company, and Laflin and Rand formed the "Gunpowder Trade Association of the United States" to restore health to the industry.  Health was restored by purchasing and closing smaller companies, discouraging new companies from starting, and fixing prices.  On July 2, 1890, President Harrison signed the anti-monopoly Sherman Act, but it was some years before this had any impact on the gunpowder industry.  Finally in 1907 a government suit was brought against du Pont.  Four years later the court found du Pont guilty of violating the Sherman Act.  As a result the explosives business was divided into three firms: Hercules Powder, Atlas Powder, and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.  The Hazard mills were transferred to Hercules on December 15, 1912.  Less than a month later, on January 14, 1913 a huge explosion heavily damaged the plant and killed two workers.  The damage was so extensive that the mill was permanently closed and the equipment moved to Valley Falls, New York.

Today little remains of the Hazardville gunpowder industry.  One or two buildings, street names like "Cooper Street," empty canals, and a few old stone foundations and blast walls.  Many old cannisters, kegs, barrels,and other artifacts survive in private collections.  Some of these artifacts, along with photos and the story of the Hazardville gunpowder industry, are preserved by the Enfield Historical Society and can be viewed at the Old Town Hall Museum.