Drying and Shipping Nitrate, Chile

Special Collections > Keystone Slides
tiff scanned file from original glass slide
Nitrate is an important chemical fertilizer. It is used to build up poor soils from which crops have largely taken the nitrogen. It is also the principal chemical used in making gunpowder and other explosives. The importance of nitrate during the Great War cannot be too much emphasized. It furnishes powder for the armies, but it also is drawn upon heavily to grow the crops to feed the armies. By far the greatest nitrate fields in the world are in Chile. The nitrate country is almost a desert. Water is rare, and in many cases is piped from the Andes, a hundred or more miles distant. Each refinery is a little mining village. There are more than 150 such "plants," most of which are owned by Englishmen. On the eastern border of Chile are the Andes Mountains. Many miles west of these is a coastal range. Between the two is a valley. In the northern part of this valley are great nitrate and salt beds. These beds are found for 150 miles from north to south. The raw nitrate generally lies very near the surface. Usually it is covered by only a few inches of sand and rock; but sometimes it is several feet below the surface. The layers of sand and rock are blasted loose. Then the "nitrate rock" is broken loose with crowbars and loaded in large chunks on carts or tram-cars. At the refineries it is boiled in a series of large containers. (Much of our iodine is a by-product of nitrate refining.) The nitrate collects on top of the water. The surface coating becomes thicker in each successive tank. Finally it is drawn off, dried, and sacked. Then it is loaded on freight cars and taken to a Pacific seaport and shipped to Europe or America. Iquique (-k´ ka) is the chief nitrate port. Keystone ID: 22369 Note: All titles, descriptions, and location coordinates are from the original Keystone Slide documentation as supplied by the Keystone View Company. No text has been edited or changed.
Copyright by the Keystone View Company. The original slides are housed in McConnell Library's Special Collections.