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Theodore Swann

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Died  5 February 1955

Theodore Swann (d. February 5, 1955) was an American industrialist and early leader of the chemical industry. He was described by one historian as "a flamboyant Birmingham mogul and New South industrialist."

Hailing from east Tennessee, in his early working years, Swann was a power salesman for the Alabama Power Company.

He established the Federal Phosphorus Company to produce concentrated phosphoric acid, mainly for use as a concentrated fertilizer, using a novel method to produce the acid from phosphate rock by heat treatment in an electric furnace.

He later established the Swann Chemical Company, focused on production of PCBs for the emergent electrical industry. Swann Chemical Company operated a chemical manufacturing plant in Anniston, Alabama where PCBs were first made on an industrial scale after development of a new process under Swann's leadership. In 1920, Swann gave his engineers the challenge of creating a process by which PCBs, up to that time very expensive and produced only in small quantities, could be produced in industrial quantities, and after much trial and error, they succeeded. The plant was later bought by Monsanto Industrial Chemicals Co. in 1935. The plant, just west of Anniston, had around 1,000 employees. One historian wrote that, "In many ways, the spirit of Swann Chemical became the corporate culture of Monsanto."

Swann's house in Birmingham, Alabama, built from 1927 to 1930, was at the time the largest residence in the city and cost $600,000 to build.

While Monsanto became the most successful agrochemical corporation in the world, Swann began to slide into poverty. He was forced to sell his castle in 1945 when he filed for bankruptcy. He nearly made a comeback by selling a new design for a furnace to process iron ore to the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, but the dictator reneged after paying only a modest down payment. Theodore Swann died selling aluminum window frames on February 5, 1955.


Theodore Swann Wikipedia

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