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  • Rumford Chemical Company Records
  • Rumford Chemical Company
Call Number:
  • MSS 13, Sub Group 2
Record Level:
  • Subgroup
Physical Description:
  • 33 ft.
  • 7 AB, 3 RB, 234 vol., roll, 2 fol. in RB
Inclusive Dates:
  • 1853-1951
Bulk Dates:
  • 1853-1951
  • Administrative records, general accounts, production records, correspondence and miscellany of chemical and food products manufacturer in East Providence and Providence, Rhode Island.
Historical Note:
  • Rumford Chemical Works was founded in 1854 through the partnership of three individuals: George F. Wilson and J.B. Duggan, Providence businessmen, and Eben N. Horseford, a Harvard professor holding the University's Rumford Chair for the Application of Science to the Useful Arts. Initially called Wilson, Duggan & Co. and, soon after, George F.Wilson & Co., the firm established a plant in Pleasant Valley, Rhode Island, in 1855 for the manufacture of baking and medicinal products, chemicals used in dyeing and printing, and fertilizer. Objections of plant neighbors to the fumes generated by these operations and the need for a river-based supply dock, however, encouraged the company to move to Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1858, at which time the name of the firm was officially changed to Rumford Chemical Works. And, with the alternation of the Rhode Island-Massachusetts boundry in 1862, the company was officially incorporated as a Rhode Island Business. Between 1860-1880, the physical plant of the Rumford Chemical Works grew from one building used as a combined factory and research laboratory to a substantial network of factories, including production and manufacturing units along the Seekonk River in East Providence and a large establishment on South Main and Water Streets in Providence, which housed the firm's main offices, research lab, and central packaging and printing departments. Rumford Chemical Works' holdings also encompassed about 2000 acres of land in East Provdience on which Wilson organized farms, stores, and shops operated by Rumford employees and their families and used to supply these individuals with food and other necessities. With the move to Seekonk, the efforts of Rumford Chemical Works turned mainly to the manufacture of yeast powder, phosphoric acid products, cream of tartar, and after 1869, modern baking powder. The chief products marketed by the firm between 1870-1915 were Rumford Baking Powder, Acid Phosphate, a medicinal compound designed to treat disorders of the brain and nervous system, and Phosa, an effervescent, fruit-flavored soft drink. These products were marketed through a vast chain of agents and consignees in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, Western Europe, England, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. In the late 1920s, Rumford Chemical Works again turned to the production of chemicals and fertilizers as well as baking powder. The construction of a modern research facility in Providence in 1940/1941 led to the development and marketing of new commodities for the grocery trade, including a potato pancake mix and Noctil, a detergent. As the end of the decade approached, however, the need for expansion of the East Providence factories and the lack of necessary capital among Rumford stockholders led to the sale of the firm by a transfer of stock to Heyden Chemical Corporation, a large New Jersey producer of drugs, antibiotics, and organic chemicals. In 1948, Rumford Chemical Works became the "Rumford Division" of the new parent organization, with the East Providence plants serving as warehouses and distributors of some of Heyden's packaged products and continuing to act as a production center for Rumford Baking Powder. Between 1949 and the mid-1960s, this division became part of Hulman & Co., of Terre Haute, Indiana, and the baking powder production unit of the firm was transferred to plants in North Little Rock, Arkansas in 1966. In that year, the former Rumford Chemical Works physical plant was sold to Essex Chemical Company of Clifton, New Jersey, which renamed the firm Rumford Company and used the East Providence factories for the production sulphuric acid and sodium phosphate glasses. The Rumford company ceased to exist as an entity in 1969, and at present the plants of what was one of Rhode Island's leading businesses now serve as the northeast division of Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation and the office Joyal and Van Dale Company, manufacturers of shoe laces.
Bibliographic References:
  • NUCMC 1993, RLIN, OCLC, Chadwyck Healey
Scope and Content:
  • During the transfer of Rumford Chemical Works records to the Rhode Island Historical Society, the original order of these materials was not maintained. The records are now organized into seven Series: Administrative Records, 1857-1948 (Series A); General Accounts, 1853-1936 (Series B); Purchasing and Receiving Records, 1893-1936 (Series C); Production Records, 1855-1949 (Series D); Sales and Shipping Records, 1868-1948 (Series E); Correspondence, 1851-1948 (Series F); and Miscellaneous Materials, 1854-1953 (Series G). In 1939 the Rumford Chemical Works celebrated its eightieth year of operation. The historical material, scrapbooks, and anniversary correspondence, press releases, and speeches gathered for that occasion provide a rather well-documented history of the company and its founders. The Rumford Checmical Works are a valuable source for the student of American business, science, and technology.
  • The Rumford Chemical Works records were given to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1976 by Dr. Karl Holst of the Essex Chemical Company. About 6 feet of additional records were donated by Milton Wolferseder in 1983 and 1989.
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