Posted by: glue | June 23, 2010

Connections (Coal Tar)

James Burke in his popular television series Connections featured in episode 7 (“The Long Chain”) the role that coal tar played in cultural and technological invention.  The program is relevant in several respects in our context:  as a review of the civilizational program of which our Superfund site (Cabot Koppers) is one remainder; as an example of what Bernard Stiegler calls “technics” (this latter point merits a separate post or two).  Here is a summary of the episode by Bill Otto.

The British in the 1600’s vied for sea supremacy, induced America to produce pitch to protect their ship’s hulls. In 1776, the British sought other sources, especially coal tar. Subsequent experiments with coal tar yielded the gas light lamps, waterproof garments and brilliant dyes. In 1939, the first miracle plastic nylon was introduced. From coal tar! A whole plastic phenomena.Traces the connection between mercantile competition between the British and Dutch in the 17th century, the development of a coal-tar pitch to protect ship hulls, and the creation of waterproofed clothing, gaslight lamps, and nylon.

  1. 747 jet air freighter
  2. compare to Flying Dutchman
  3. shipping
  4. insurance Lloyd’s of London
  5. pitch for ship bottoms
  6. cotton factories
  7. coal gas lighting
  8. copper boat bottoms
  9. ammonia
  10. naphtha
  11. rubberized raincoats
  12. nutmegs/spices
  13. plantation building
  14. malaria
  15. quinine water
  16. gin and tonic
  17. artificial quinine
  18. artificial dye
  19. synthetic fertilizer
  20. acetylene lamps
  21. calcium carbide
  22. artificial fertilizer (again)
  23. German Navy
  24. Plastics


  1. […] can only be understood in hindsight. Kind of like in James Burke’s Connections series. Who knew coal tar could be so important? So let me approach this question from a different angle, once again […]

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