Book review-‘Abenteuer Salpeter: Gewinnung und Nutzung eines Rohstoffes aus der chilenischen Atacamawüste’ edited by L. U. Scholl and R. Slotta

By Frank Scott, published October 2020


Sodium nitrate, or saltpetre, was an essential component for explosives (gunpowder), and in the nineteenth century it became widely used as agricultural fertilizer, which made it even more important. The largest natural deposits turned out to be in the Atacama Desert region of South America, and the Nitrate trade from the Chilean loading ports to Europe, via Cape Horn, has become the stuff of legend. The was epitomized by the famous ‘Flying P’ shipping line of F. Laeisz, with its giant five-masters Potosi and Preussen, along with numerous four-masted barques. A. D. Bordes, a French company, was the main competitor for Laeisz, but there were many other smaller companies involved, notably British. At its peak in the early 1900s, photographs show the roads off the ports of Iquique and Antofagasta crowded with square riggers going through the laborious process of loading from lighters. In those boom years prior to the outbreak of the First World War it was akin to a gold rush, with nitrates accounting for some 50 per cent of the Chilean GDP…

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Logistics | Science & Exploration

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