HOWTO farm with dynamite, the Art Nouveau edition

Lakelady sends us, "a complete online text for how and why farming with dynamite is a good idea written by E.I. Du Pont de Nemours Powder Company. Published in 1910. Note the lovely art nouveau embellishments on some of the pages."

Farming with Dynamite


  1. Apparently Du Pont goes back to 1802. I wonder when the first person said, “Hold my flagon of mead and hearken unto this!”

    1. As a Delawarean let me tell you, DuPont originally started as a gun powder company (I believe they created most of the gun powder used in the Civil War) and their original powder mill is now a museum on the Brandywine river in Wilmington, Delaware (the museum is called Hagley). And given DuPont’s love for chemicals, I am in no way surprised by this pamphlet.

  2. Actually THIS was the intended application.  When Noble saw all the warfare use of dynamite he was so upset that he created the Noble Peace Prize to attempt to compensate for what he saw as his responsibility for the creation of high explosives.

  3. This was mentioned in the movie “Snow Falling on Cedars.” Some Japanese-American famers had dynamite in a shed… off to the camps they went.

  4. Dynamite is not TNT. Dynamite is an absorbent mixture like clay soaked in nitroglycerin. TNT is Trinitrotoluene. Farming with TNT would be extraordinary as its usually only used by the military and for really serious stuff whereas dynamite is less so. Although dynamite does have more energy content it’s far more common to use in mining and clearance so it’s not that surprising that it might be suggested for use in agriculture.

    Unrelated. Why the fuck do you have to sign up to comment now. This is exactly the kind of thing I would think BoingBoing would be against. Whatever have a mailinator account I’ll never use again I wouldn’t have bothered if this wasn’t such a colossal title fuck up.

    1. Yeah, there was an announcement and a huge discussion about it a couple weeks ago. Those that don’t dig it were summarily dismissed. It’s a fun discussion to read:

    2. I like the cut of your jib.

      Came to point out the same TNT != Dynamite thing (Thanks for nothing,
      AC/DC), and I think I feel about as strongly against Disqus and the
      awful privacy-killing effect it’s having on commenting as you do.

  5. Was commonly used to eradicate gophers and other varmints from golf courses before the more humane usage of plastique explosives was developed.

  6. Good news:  Not sure where the EPA stands on dynamite, but Dupont’s tree-killing herbicide is straight out. :)

  7. I’ve heard stories from my dad of grandpa removing stumps with black powder.

    Something tells me I’d get into a heap of trouble if I started blowing out the 7 or 8 stumps in my yard with black powder….  oh well back to a mattock, shovel, and come-along.

  8. From top of page 7: “When the second crop was ready, the ladies came again and ‘touched’ Mr. Williams for a little more than two tons which sold as well as the first load”

    The whole brochure is hilarious.

  9. A farmer’s manual called “The How-To Book”, published about 1903 tells how to burn out a tree stump: soak nitroglycerin into it for several days, then set it on fire.

  10. A great bit of historical insight.

    In 1910, the internal combustion engine barely existed, so your only option was to beat away at the ground with pickaxes, shovels, and various things dragged behind animals. I think we take for granted just how unbelievably hard it is to actually work the ground without mechanized equipment: the misery in which these people toiled is amazing. Then along came dynamite, long before practical small engines that a farmer could afford and the infrastructure to fuel them… imagine how amazing it would have been to see a stump blown to bits in an instant when you’ve spent your entire life clearing them by manual effort alone.

    By the way, TNT does in fact have civilian uses: in mining, cast boosters for initiating bulk ANFO are usually PETN / TNT mixtures. Where stick dynamite is still used (underground in wet environments), nitroglycerin formulations are favored only because they’re cheaper than things like TNT. Mostly it’s bulk ANFO though; again, for reasons of cost.

    1. Well, not really. Your point about mechanization is well taken, but it wasn’t the internal combustion engine that mechanized agriculture. The steam tractor was introduced well before that, in 1868. In fact, my Dad still remembers old steam tractors from his childhood in the ’40s.

      1. Interesting… I didn’t know about steam tractors… were they within the reach of a successful small farm?

        Another consideration is that even a farmer who had a steam tractor probably wouldn’t have a had a steam shovel… not that they were very useful for digging below grade anyway. The hydraulic excavator was a long way from practicality at that point.

        Steam powered equipment was a major capital expense, as farming machinery is today… whereas the small farmer could buy a few sticks of dynamite here and there and make his life a whole lot easier.

        1. Oh, sure: no disputing the usefulness of dynamite if you needed to clear a stump or something. I looked it up, and those old tractors might only deliver about 20 horsepower. That’s like a modern garden tractor.

          I gather they were common enough, though, and pretty much all farms in those days were what we would call small farms.

          1. Don’t confuse the stump-pulling ability of 20 HP of pure torque and a flat power curve to 20 peak HP found in a narrow (useless) corner of a high RPM / low torque power curve.

  11. I’m betting there are many bands named “Farming with Dynamite”, but what genre fits best? Bluegrass, Rock, Punk, Metal (Maybe not), Cajun, String quartet (again, maybe not), R&B?

  12. My folks used dynamite to fix a flooded basement.
    The downstairs toilet would occasionally disgorge sewage so it was decided to replace the septic tank and drain field.
    It was tough going in the front yard, laying the new pipe through unforgiving hard pan soil. It was clear it wouldn’t drain very well so we started digging a hole at the low end for the water to go.
    Thirty miserable feet later we were still in clay, ladder to the bottom, winching the clay up a bucket at a time when my dad had a great idea: dynamite.
    That should help punch through past the hard pan…
    So he wired up the dynamite on the bottom of the hole and we threw down some branches and stuff to “deflect” the force. We kids were stationed on the road out front to stop any traffic and the switch was closed.
    I was about forty feet away. There was a nice, loud bang, a short pause, the road convulsed and knocked me down.
    The blast had no appreciable impact on the clay. We called it good and packed the well with loose dirt and gravel.
    The basement toilet seemed to work ok for the next twenty years and then the sewer came to the neighborhood.

    1. If I read you right, you just put some dynamite at the bottom of an excavation and set it off… yeah, that must have been a hell of an air blast, and it would have done exactly nothing to the ground itself.

      In order for explosives to do anything useful, they have to be confined. If you’d augured or dug a hole just a few feet deep, put the dynamite in it, and packed some earth back on top of it, you’d have seen a rather different result.

  13.  In the 1950’s, the St.Lawrence was teeming with beluga whales, and they were seen as competitors with respect to fish consumption. Since beluga whales are easy to spot from above, that airplanes had been so successful in the 2nd world war and we had a lot of money to spare (or so it seems) the government did the next logical step : bomb the beluga whales! Dy-No-Mite!

    Step one: Blow up your neighbor’s barn.

  15. And 20 years ago I remember reading a USFS document on how to place dynamite sticks to blast apart horse carcasses on remote trails, wish I could share it.   Plus there was one biologist who used dynamite to down trees to create nurseries for salmon fingerlings and the animals they eat (like sticklebacks) in the Tongass – not effective in creating good fish habitat fyi.

  16. When my dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service, he assisted in digging irrigation ditches through caliche with dynamite. – set charges at regular distances, and set off the first charge.  The concussion would start a chain reaction and ‘dig’ a trench that could then be opened up and graded with other equipment.

  17. In the big permaculture textbook, Bill Mollison recommends dynamite to blow fractal like patterns in near-to-surface rock, noting that the resulting branching network of cracks resembles the pattern of plant root growth.

    Always thought that sounded like more fun than planting daikon.

  18. My step father, who is in his 70s grew up on a small farm.  His best stories involve dynamite used for recreational purposes.  “You could buy it at the hardware store in those days…”

  19. Having grown up on a farm I can say that Dynamite? Not so much. ANFO? Hell yeah. I learnt how to make this stuff from a very young age because it was just so damn useful. Blowing shit up is still a very big part of farming for a lot of people. 

  20. To prepare planting of fruit trees
    A small dynamite explosion 3 feet below the surface. Deep enough and with  weight on top to encourage a sideways blast. Long term nitrogen is forced to fracture and open the soil. Just right to promote fast growing roots.

  21. True story. I shared this article with my family and my father wrote back:

    “Your Great Grandpa Sheridan (my grandfather) was
    a “Powder Monkey” for the Reynolds Metal Mining Company and worked in
    the Bauxite Mines for many years. He also had 120 acres off of Chambers Road
    and Childress Road in Bauxite, Ar. He raised Sweet Potatoes as a cash crop. He
    used Dynamite to break up stumps when he cleared to fields for his crop. He
    also was good at using a witching stick to find water for his-self and others.
    Then used dynamite in small portions and on some circumstances to dig the well.”

    Maybe not something for every farmer. It was a good thing for him to have (& safely use) to help provide water and some extra income for a growing family.

    Great article!

  22. did anyone else look at the trees on the cover and think it was some kind of cartoony looking dinosaur dragon thing? cuz i didn’t get that they were trees at first and thought it was a mascot of some sort…

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