Friday, March 4, 2016

Glidden/Central Soya Plant

(Update: SoyInfo Center)

Because they were land locked here, they built a large grain elevator along the Calumet River.

This vacant lot used to be the Central Soya site, formerly Glidden.* A fairly large clanky factory housing a spaghetti of pipes and tanks, with a factory whistle that you could hear all the way across the neighborhood.* The industrial use of soyabeans was pioneered here, as well as food products use...there was a research lab here, too (directed by Dr. Percy Julian)* Sort of an important place in agribiz history.* The early process used was somewhat dangerous as this plant blew up in the 1930s, levelled a city block, killed 11, injured 40.* They rebuilt it, but its gone now (bought by ADM in the early '80s & closed).* This was a pretty impressive operation in its time..
["Throughout the 1970s, Central Soya's Promine was the world's best-selling and most esteemed isolated soy protein. But, for various reasons, the product was only marginally profitable. The plant in Chicago was obsolete and in a bad location, with major expensive waste disposal problems. There was no room to expand the old plant, and to move it would have been too expensive. So in about 1978-79 Central Soya simply announced that it was discontinuing production of Promine soy protein isolates. When they went out, they literally handed the market over to Ralston Purina by suggesting to their customers that they buy from Purina. Prior to this time, isolates had been a minor, slightly unprofitable business for Purina. Now they became big business. In about 1980-81?? Archer Daniels Midland, after making a deal with the city of Chicago over waste disposal, finally bought Central Soya's once-famous isolate plant in Chicago. Central Soya took a pretax loss of $5.2 million on the deal (W. Williams 1981)." [SoyInfoCenter]]
From Trinity Moses, <=2005,
Since my Dad worked for Central Soya, I knew that one of the uses for the oil extracted from soybeans was to make paint. What I did not know is that application of the oil, and many others including edible food products, where invented by Glidden's research lab.

The rest of this information is from

Glidden was founded in 1875 in Cleveland to make varnish. When Francis Glidden retired at age 85, Adrian D. Joyce became president when The Glidden Company was incorporated in 1917. Within the first two years, Adrian acquired 10 paint and varnish companies across the country. Then in the 1920s Adrian focused on the vertical integration by acquiring chemical and pigment companies, including lead and zinc companies. The market of the chemicals and pigments were not restricted to their own paint plants. For example, their pigments were used in ceramics, printing ink, and automotive industries.
"The Glidden Food Products Co. was created in 1920. This subsidiary refined vegetable oils and produced 'oleomargarine.'" In 1929, it purchased several other food companies and/or vegetable oil companies including Durkee. It took further advantage of the depression to acquire more businesses for its Chemical & Pigment Division.
Glidden also branched out into the soybean business, building a soybean oil extraction plant in Chicago in 1934. The operations were incorporated as Glidden’s Holland Mills, Inc. subsidiary three years later. The versatile soybean business complemented both the paint and foods operations: soybean oil was used in the production of paint and linoleum as well as in margarine. Furthermore, Glidden was one of only two American companies licensed to use a German process for producing lecithin, a soybean oil byproduct used by paint and rubber as well as candy and margarine makers. Soybean flour and proteins were used in the production of plastics, paper coatings and sizings, and synthetic resins. By the mid-1940s, Glidden had developed a full line of soy-protein and water-based paints. In 1938 Glidden was able to reorganize Holland Mills as a division, but just one year later, the plant was destroyed by fire.
In 1948 Glidden introduced its water-borne latex paint, Spred Satin. This invention caused their retail paint sales to grow so much that in 1958 they "sold its soybean processing and grain merchandising operations to Central Soya Co., Inc., for $3.76 million." In 1987 Glidden released its Rustmaster Pro corrosion-resistant paint. The irony is that this product reduced the paint market because metal did not have to be repainted as often. In 2000 they released the first "virtually odorless paint with no petroleum-based solvents or volatile organic compounds."

"The Glidden Company." International Directory of Company Histories. 1994. Retrieved Februasoyaglry 23, 2016 from

Update: The following is a redo based on Scottie's comment and an email from Jerry Hebda: "The Central Soya elevators were just West of Laramie and South of the East end of Galewood yard. Glidden Paint was East of Laramie also against Milw. Rd. and ran all the way to Cragin station at LeClaire. Laramie split the 2 plants. with no RR crossings. The elevators were served from the West right out of the yard. Glidden was served from the East off the Milw. track #4. At Cragin Station, the 4 tracks were elevated, with an  overpass on LeClaire, with a steep switching lead to several tracks at grade level going into Glidden South of  the overpass." Jerry remembers that the plant exploded again in the 1958-1964 period.

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP
It appears that most of the land of the Glidden plant is now The Grace and Peace Community - LaClaire Campus. The steep embankment and part of the Leclaire Avenue crossing is still visible:
Street View

This pix is the tail end of the Galewood Yard, and the abandonded silos of the old Central Soya/Glidden plant (which is long gone) in an "urban forest". Originally a sorting yard for the Milwaulkee Road, it also was the location of a Montogomery Ward mail-order shipping operation.

Urban forest and derelict industrial property.* Amazing.* 30 years ago this scene would have been filled with switch points and the start of the yard tracks, and freigh cars at the end of the Galewood sorting yard.

Central Soya built additional soy processing plants. The headquarters of Master Mix and Central Soya was in Forth Wayne , IN so Dad and I was able to join a tour of the Decatur, IN plant. I remember there was one big room that gave a whole new meaning to the word "stink." Dad was a tax accountant, and I remember another plant he would visit for tax assessment (property tax) reasons was in Gibson, IL. It looks like that one got sold to DuPont Nutrition and Health. When I visited Cairo, IL as part of a trip to visit the Olmsted Dam, I noticed Bunge had another plant there. (I remember Dad saying that Central Soya used to own their own barge fleet.) In fact, the Bunge plant is about the only business left in Cairo. Since all three of my daughters went to University of Illinois Urbana/Champagne, I watched the Incobrasa plant west of Gilman being built. They are one of the few companies that proudly display their name on their covered hoppers. In this case, the fleet of hoppers would be used to carry soybeans. So Glidden's pioneering research is why Illinois fields grow soybeans if they are not growing corn. Soybeans are a legume and fix nitrogen [nmsu].  Unlike corn, soybeans don't need tons of nitrogen made by energy intensive processes applied to the soil by diesel guzzling equipment. And if the crops are rotated, then corn needs less artificial fertilizer.

Marty Swartz posted two photos with the comment:
October 7, 1935, in Chicago history...........Glidden plant explosion kills 11..........The explosion at 1845 N. Laramie Ave. in the North Austin neighborhood was so powerful that it leveled the five-story Glidden factory building, destroyed nearby storage buildings, flattened automobiles and rail cars, shattered windows in 200 houses and apartments, and was felt as far away as Elmwood Park. The blast killed 11 employees and injured 43 other people. For weeks, officials speculated that the explosion at the factory, which had just reopened after a five-week renovation, was caused by a chemical used in the process of extracting oil from soybeans. But a fire department expert on Oct. 23 blamed it on "the spontaneous eruption of dust in a huge five story tank."
The same day as that ruling, a Momence, Ill., soybean plant exploded on its first day of operations and killed two people, including the owner.
The Tribune noted that the extraction of soybean oil for salad dressing, shortening and use in varnishes and paints was a comparatively new industry. The first photo is firemen and rescue workers carry the body of a victim from the ruins of the Glidden factory in Chicago after an explosion killed 11 people October 7, 1935, and injured more than 40 others. (Chicago Tribune historical photo). The second photo is a steam shovel removing a crushed car October 8, 1935, from the ruins of the Glidden factory in Chicago, as the search continued for victims of an explosion that leveled the five-story building the day before. (Chicago Tribune historical photo).

Michael Daniels We lived in an apartment on Laramie and Bloomingdale in the late 70’s right there by that plant. Those big towers made me think of an old black and white science fiction movie where black gook creatures were housed. When we looked at the apartment, which was just a second floor to a nice brick home, we totally didn’t pay much attention to the neighboring chemical plant. Over the short time we lived there, we could smell the output of the plant. Weird too, that our newly born daughter had a sensitivity to milk . So the doctor prescribed Neo- Mull, a soybean formulated substitute. Turned out the mix was missing a key ingredient. Our daughters teeth grew in as transparent teeth. One day when I was driving home from work, the air and streets were covered in brownish powder that came flowing out of the plant. Was an odd time in our family history.
Cathy Patela When I was young- years after this event- we lived a block away from the plant. They had weekly emergency drills using a very loud and startling whistle pattern. In addition they blew the whistle in a different pattern each weekday at 12:30- I guess to signify lunch break. Was very unnerving when we first moved there until we got used to it.
Michael Daniels This vacant lot used to be the Central Soya site, formerly Glidden.* A fairly large clanky factory housing a spaghetti of pipes and tanks, with a factory whistle that you could hear all the way across the neighborhood.* The industrial use of soybeans was pioneered here, as well as food products use...there was a research lab here, too (directed by Dr. Percy Julian)* Sort of an important place in agribiz history.* The early process used was somewhat dangerous as this plant blew up in the 1930s, leveled a city block, killed 11, injured 40.* They rebuilt it, but its gone now (bought by ADM in the early '80s & closed).* This was a pretty impressive operation in its time..



AP 1947, ChicagoTribune by Ron Grossman
"Percy Julian’s tooth-and-nail battles for educational, professional opportunities led to vital pharmaceutical discoveries"
[Most of the full-page article is about dealing with racial prejudice such as not being able to work for the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, WI in 1936 because the town had a law prohibiting African-Americans from staying overnight. I knew he invented how to make many products from soybean oil, but I did not realize they included medical products. "As a chemist he helped develop medical steroids. He found a way to synthesize cortisone from soybeans, resulting in an affordable drug for the legions suffering from arthritis. He similarly transformed soybeans into progesterone, a component of the birth-control pill."]


  1. Plant was just East of silos across Laramie av., bordered by side street of Le Claire. So try searching that locations satellite photos. The body of killed mailman which was passing by as plant exploded, was never found. Great work documenting such an historic "World heritage" site! And African American history where OP/Maywood's Dr. Percy Julian produced some 16 patents.

    1. I have updated the post. Thanks for the correction.

  2. Thanks for sharing, it was interesting to read!

  3. The stink! The stink!

  4. Thanks for this article, that was a sad day for my Mom and her family, her father, my Grandfather, Edwin Seaburg was one of the 11 killed that day. He was unemployed because of the depression and a fellow union iron worker offered him his shift that day and he never made it home after his 1st and only day working there.
    Sadly 62 years later Edwins only son, my uncle Albert Seaburg also died tragically when he was shot and killed in a robbery attempt while traveling through Florida, it remains unsolved today.