Pioneer Baltimore industrialist, Isaac Tyson, Jr. was the Renaissance man of the early United States minerals and chemicals industries. In a day when specialists were scarce, Isaac Tyson was geologist, mineralogist, assayist, mining engineer, metallurgist, industrial chemist, inventor, business manager, banker and economist. Isaac Tyson clearly recognized the need for a resource base to underpin industrial development, and, between 1810 and the end of his life, every aspect of U.S. resource development captured his interest.
Isaac Tyson fathered the American chromium industry, first as an exporter of chrome ore and then as a manufacturer of chromium-based chemicals. Although chromium was only first discovered in France in 1797, by 1810 Isaac Tyson had identified chromite in the Bare Hills near Baltimore and had begun to export it to chemicals plants in England.
Isaac Tyson’s business grew relatively slowly until 1827, when he discovered additional chromite deposits in Maryland and Pennsylvania. For 20 years following these discoveries, until major new deposits were discovered in Turkey, Isaac Tyson dominated world trade in chromite ore.
In 1845, Isaac Tyson patented a process for manufacturing potassium bichromate and founded the Baltimore Chrome Works, a plant that continued in production until 1985, a span of 140 years.
In 1827, Isaac Tyson obtained a patent for a new method for making copperas, an iron salt used in dyeing and as a disinfectant. The copperas patent led Tyson to an interest in iron pyrite deposits, and he became associated with the backers of the major U.S. iron pyrite mine at that time, located on Copperas Hill in South Strafford, Vermont.
The presence of chalcopyrite, a copper-sulfide mineral, in the South Strafford ore prompted the group to attempt to smelt copper while also producing sulfur at the mine site. In 1833 and 1834, Isaac Tyson spent 15 months at South Strafford, working toward that end. During these months, he devised the use of a hot air blast, using anthracite fuel, to smelt copper, perhaps for the first time. In 1834, Tyson obtained a patent for applying heated air to the smelting of copper ores.
Isaac Tyson’s pioneering experiments at South Strafford led him to iron making. In 1837, he blew in a hot-blast furnace at Plymouth, Vermont, which, using charcoal as fuel, continued to produce iron for 20 years.
During the 1830s and 1840s, Isaac Tyson worked intensely to develop Maryland copper deposits, and in 1850, he joined a group of investors in establishing the Baltimore Copper Smelting company in Baltimore. Tyson also helped find and finance lead, iron, manganese, copper and coal mines at numerous locations throughout New England and the Middle Atlantic states.
This brief listing of Isaac Tyson's accomplishments is far from complete. In the chemical industry, he is best remembered as an innovative and pioneering industrial chemist. He provided a practical training ground for others and passed profitable businesses on to his heirs.
Isaac Tyson, Jr. was an American original and one of its truly great industrialists during the first half of the 19th Century.