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Photographs from the Records & Ephemera of Hercules Incorporated


Held at: Science History Institute Archives [Contact Us]315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Science History Institute Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Formed in 1912 as part of an anti-trust settlement with DuPont, the Hercules Powder Company (later Hercules Incorporated) specialized in the manufacture of explosives and smokeless powders. Based in Wilmington, Delaware, Hercules was a major Allied supplier during World War I and gained particular notoriety for the production of acetone, a key solvent, from giant kelp harvested from coastal waters. Following the war, Hercules sought out peacetime uses for its considerable chemical supply and diversified its business to encompass a variety of industrial products, including pine and paper chemicals, synthetics, pigments, polymers, and cellulose. This trend continued after the Second World War, as Hercules further expanded into emerging fields like missiles and rocketry and emerged as a truly international company with plants across the United States and in countries as varied as Mexico, Germany, and Japan. In 1966, the company changed its name from Hercules Powder Company to Hercules Inc. to better reflect the multi-faceted business model exemplified by the company's mid-century tagline, "solving problems by chemistry for industry." While Hercules continued to expand throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the end of the Cold War and rocket-based space exploration programs ultimately curtailed the company's prospects for growth and Ashland Corporation eventually acquired Hercules Inc. in 2008.

For a more detailed inventory, please view this record in our library catalog:

This collection consists of a vast array of photographic prints, negatives, slides, and ephemera chronicling the plants, employees, products, advertising, and brand strategies of the Hercules Powder Company (later Hercules Incorporated). The materials predominately date from the second half of the twentieth century and are divided into five series: Series I. Facilities; Series II. People; Series III. Branding; Series IV. Products; and Series V. Negatives. Many of the photographs are professional, work-for-hire images used for publicity and in-house publications, including the Hercules Mixer and Beacon Rocket. Notably, the collection lacks much documentation of Hercules' wartime production facilities, save for a few fragmentary photographs of the Radford Ordnance Works in Radford, Virginia. On the whole, the collection primarily documents Hercules' specialty chemicals divisions and offers a rich photographic record of Hercules' evolution from a small company specializing in industrial explosives to a world-wide organization manufacturing and selling diverse products to a variety of industries.

A portion of this collection has been digitized and is available online in our Digital Collections:

Separated from the Records and Ephemera of Hercules Incorporated, 1913-1997; Gift of Barbara H. Brockett on behalf of Hercules Inc., 2012.

Processed by Hillary S. Kativa. Photographs were removed from albums and rehoused with the original order and descriptions maintained. Duplicates and near-duplicates were weeded at the discretion of the processing archivist (for more information, see scope note for Series V. Negatives).

Science History Institute Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid created by Hillary S. Kativa and encoded into EAD by Melanie Grear.
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Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.

Use Restrictions

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Collection Inventory

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