Skip to main content
Select Source:

Potash

POTASH

POTASH (potassium carbonate) and soda (sodium carbonate) have been used from the dawn of history in bleaching textiles, making glass, and, from about a.d. 500, in making soap. Soda was principally obtained by leaching the ashes of sea plants, and potash from the ashes of land plants. In their uses, potash and soda were largely but not entirely interchangeable. Indeed, before the mid-eighteenth century, people only vaguely differentiated between the two.

With the advent of gunpowder at the end of the Middle Ages, potash found a new use for which soda could not substitute: the manufacture of saltpeter. Thus, the increasing demand for glass, soap, textiles, and gunpowder in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europe accelerated the decimation of the forests from which producers obtained potash. In 1608 the first settlers in Virginia established a "glass house," and the first cargo to Britain included potash. Britain obtained most of its potash from Russia, but a potash crisis in about 1750 led Parliament to remit the duty and led the Society of Arts of London to offer premiums for the production of potash in America.

Potash-making became a major industry in British North America. Great Britain was always the most important market. The American potash industry followed the woodsman's ax across the country. After about 1820, New York replaced New England as the most important source; by 1840 the center was in Ohio. Potash production was always a by-product industry, following from the need to clear land for agriculture.

By 1850, potash had gained popularity as a fertilizer, but forests available for indiscriminate burning were becoming ever scarcer. Fortunately, deep drilling for common salt at Stassfurt, Germany, revealed strata of potassium salts, and in 1861 production of this mineral potash began. The United States, having decimated its forests, joined most of the rest of the world in dependency on German potash. The dependency still existed when World War I cut off this source of supply. Frantic efforts produced some domestic potash, notably from the complex brines of some western saline lakes. The United States surmounted the wartime urgency, but the shortage directed attention to reports of oil drilling that had brought up potash salts. These clues led to large deposits near Carlsbad, New Mexico. After 1931 a number of mines there supplied about 90 percent of the domestic requirement of potash. Some 95 percent of this production became fertilizer.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Godfrey, Eleanor Smith. The Development of English Glassmaking, 1560–1640. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Hall, Bert S. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Hoffman, Ronald, et al., eds. The Economy of Early America: The Revolutionary Period, 1763–1790. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988.

McCusker, John J., and Russell R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607–1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Robert P.Multhauf/a. e.

See alsoBounties, Commercial ; Chemical Industry ; Enumerated Commodities ; Fertilizers ; Geological Survey, U.S. ; Industries, Colonial .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Potash." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Potash." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/potash

"Potash." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/potash

potash

potash Any of several potassium compounds, especially potassium oxide (K2O), potassium carbonate (K2CO3) and potassium hydroxide (KOH). Potash is mined for use as fertilizer because potassium is an essential element for plant growth. Potassium carbonate is used for making soap and glass, and potassium hydroxide for soap and detergents.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"potash." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"potash." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potash

"potash." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/potash