Handbook of Texas Online
Carbon black is produced from "sour"
gas-natural gas that contains more than 1½ grains of
hydrogen sulfide or more than two grains of sulfur per
hundred standard cubic feet. Although J. K. Wright, a
Philadelphia ink maker, discovered the process of
manufacturing carbon black in 1864, it was little used
until improved technology in the twentieth century
reduced the high cost of production.
After 1915 carbon black became widely used as a
reinforcing agent in the production of automobile tires.
In early 1923 the first Texas plant for manufacturing
carbon black by burning residue gas from gasoline plants
was constructed in Stephens County. Two other plants were
erected in the same county later that year; together the
three plants annually produced 2,633,013 pounds of carbon
black valued at $184,306.
Carbon black production was limited to Stephens and
Eastland counties until March 11, 1926, when the Railroad
Commission permitted the Phillips Petroleum Company to
build a plant in the Panhandle for the casinghead
gasoline plants in Carson and Hutchinson counties. This
plant, initially run by the Western Carbon Company, was
later owned and operated by the Columbian Carbon firm.
By 1926 there were seven carbon black plants in Stephens
County and two in Eastland County, as well as the one in
Hutchinson County; that year Texas produced 20 percent of
the nation's output of carbon black. In 1928 the Cabot
Carbon Company established the first of several plants
near Pampa, and in 1931 a plant was erected at Big Lake.
Such corporations as Coltexo, Texas-Elf Carbon, Peerless
Carbon, and United Carbon continued to expand and
sometimes established their own company towns in more
remote areas to house employees and their families. In
1931 thirty-one plants in Texas produced 210,878,000
pounds of carbon black, or 75 percent of the nation's
In 1937 forty Texas plants, thirty-three of them in the
Panhandle, produced 82 percent of the nation's carbon
black; the Panhandle plants alone yielded 405,247,000
pounds. Plants were also operating in Winkler and Ward
counties during the late 1930s and 1940s. By the close of
World War II there were forty-two carbon black plants in
the state, including one at Bunavista, west of Borger,
built shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
During the 1950s, when eighty-eight billion cubic feet of
gas were burned annually to produce carbon black, Texas
retained its position as the nation's leading carbon
black producer. In 1954 thirty Texas plants with a total
daily capacity of three million pounds were located in
eighteen counties and produced 65 percent of the nation's
total carbon black.
Rubber companies absorbed most of the total production;
smaller quantities were used as pigments in ink and
paint. Production continued to be concentrated in the
Panhandle, although some carbon black plants were built
along the Gulf Coast.
Major locations included five plants (four furnace-type
and one channel-type) at Borger, two furnace-type plants
at Big Spring, and two plants (one furnace-type and one
channel-type) at Seagraves. Other plants were located at
Skellytown, Baytown, and Aransas Pass. Of the two methods
of production, channel and furnace, the latter was
becoming more popular by the 1960s.
In 1964 the industry recovered 1,165,593,000 pounds of
carbon black valued at $86,494,000. Thirty-nine plants
employed 1,954 persons and had a value added by
manufacturing of $29,957,000. The total daily capacity of
Texas carbon black plants had increased by that year to
3,945,300 pounds. By 1969 Texas carbon black production
was valued at $110,816,000.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a general decline in the number
of carbon black plants, due mainly to the decrease in
output of natural gas. This was particularly true of the
Panhandle, where by the 1980s only a few plants near
Pampa and Borger remained in operation. Even so, Texas
remained the largest producer of carbon black.
In 1973 the state produced 1,511,127,000 pounds of carbon
black, valued at $128,144,000. By 1981 only 3,213,899
cubic feet, or about .05 percent of all the natural gas
in Texas, went to produce carbon black. In 1984 carbon
black was manufactured from 2,456,809 cubic feet, or .04
percent of Texas natural gas.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. G. Allen, H. W. Price, and E. V.
Reinbold, "The History, Use and Manufacture of
Carbon Black," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 12
(1939). Gray County History Book Committee, Gray County
Heritage (Dallas: Taylor, 1985). Charles Albert Warner,
Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf, 1939).
H. Allen Anderson
(information from The Handbook of
Texas Online --
a multidisciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history,
geography, and culture.)