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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

HARSHAW CHEMICAL CO.

HARSHAW CHEMICAL CO.

HARSHAW CHEMICAL CO., a diversified industrial chemical producer, was founded by Wm. A. Harshaw as the Cleveland Commercial Co. in 1892 to deal in chemicals, oils, and dry colors. In the mid-1890s the company bought interests in several manufacturing firms, acquiring Ralph L. Fuller and Wallace B. Goodwin as partners, and formed the C.H. Price Co. in 1897 to operate a small linseed-oil mill in Elyria. In 1898 Cleveland Commercial and C.H. Price merged to form the Harshaw, Fuller & Goodwin Co. with glycerine-refining and electroplating operations in Elyria and headquarters in Cleveland. With William Harshaw as president, the company expanded its manufacturing operations, building a plant at 1000 Harvard Ave. in the industrial FLATS area and a glycerine refinery in Philadelphia during the early 1900s. World War I saw increased demand for the company's products, and in the 1920s Harshaw improved and enlarged existing facilities and established an operation in New Jersey. The firm, selling over 1,000 different chemical products nationally, shortened its name to Harshaw Chemical Co. in 1929 and moved into new headquarters at 1945 E. 97th St. in 1930.

Demand increased for Harshaw's products during World War II, as it contributed to the atom-bomb project by developing uranium chemicals for the government. By 1949, Harshaw's Harvard Ave. facility was one of the Manhattan Project's largest makers of uranium chemicals. This business was not without risks and officials with the Atomic Energy Commission later reported that between 1942 and 1953, Harshaw released approximately 4,000 pounds of radioactive uranium-fluoride particles annually; making it, in the words of those officials, a "major contributor" to pollution in Cleveland. The company continued to grow after the war; sales were $60.8 million in 1955, with income of $2.5 million and 1,683 employees. In the 1960s the chemical firm contributed to the space program and to military technology utilized during the Vietnam War. In 1966 Harshaw merged with the Kewanee Oil Co. of Bryn Mawr, PA, and Kewanee in turn was acquired by the Gulf Oil Corp. in 1977. Gulf organized a joint venture with the Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. in 1983, combining their 2 chemical units into the Harshaw/Filtrol Partnership to produce specialty chemicals. After the merger, the firm moved its headquarters from E. 97th St. to 30010 Chagrin Blvd. in 1984, and just two years later the company employed 2,100 people and had revenues of nearly $264 million. In 1988, Kaiser sold the Harshaw/Fitrol partnership to Engelhard, a specialty chemical and metallurgical maker based in Oakland, CA.

Increased scrutiny over sites of former contractors to the Manhattan Project led federal environmental officials to Harshaw's production facility on Harvard Ave., which refined uranium between 1944 and 1959. Investigators discovered that the 40 acre site had high concentrations of hydrofluric acid and the site was added to a list already under study by the Department of Energy's Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program in 1999. Oversite for the program soon shifted to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and in 2003, a review conducted by the Corp concluded that the radiological and chemical contaminants posed "no immediate health risk" to the general public.


Harshaw Chemical Co. Tested by Time (1956).