Interview with Ferdinand D. Bickel, 1959 February 27 [audio]

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  • Texas City disaster and the explosive capability of Ammonium Nitrate; Comparison of prills and solid explosives; Waterproofing prills
    Partial Transcript: "And of course, after the Texas City disaster, everybody...realized that ammonium nitrate was explosive..." "DuPont doesn't make prills..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about the Texas City disaster and the explosive properties of ammonium nitrate. He describes it as a being the worst of all situations, and suggest that ammonium nitrate in a field would have burned, as opposed to the explosions which occurred on board a ship. He talks about DuPont's invention of Nitromon. He compares using prills, which are small spheres, to sticks of dynamite and other solid explosives. He says that prills are more commonly used for fertilizer than explosives. He talks about how it was used during World War II for explosives. He explains why DuPont was never interested in making their own prills. He talks about making prills waterproof. He says that those efforts cannot compare to the waterproof qualities of Nitramex and its other safety and performance advantages over prills.
    Keywords: Amatol; Ammonium Nitrate; Atlas Powder Company; Explosion (Texas City, Texas : 1947); Fertilizer; Nitramex; Nitromon; Prills; Texas City disaster; Texast City (Tex.); World War (1939-1945)
  • Improvements in explosives; Reflections on his career
    Partial Transcript: "It's hard to pinpoint, I'd say some of both, but of course, there's been a close liaison between the research department and the field..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about what drove improvements in explosives. He says it was a combination of lab work and reports from the field. He talks about Nitromon and Nitromex. He says that Nitramon is cheaper to ship than TNT because it is not classified as highly explosive. Bickel says that his career is hard to summarize because no two days were the same. He says that there's no substitute for experience and that one must always be mindful of the dangers posed by explosives.
    Keywords: Explosives; Improvement; Invention: Innovation; Nitramon; Nitromex
  • Bad explosions and blasts; Preparing for blasts and explosions; Communications between DuPont's field offices and Wilmington; DuPont organization
    Partial Transcript: "I hoped I would be able to retire without ever being involved in personal injury from an explosive...unfortunately I have not been able to do that." "Blasting is not an exact science, we always fall back on that old saw, but we try to make it more exact all the time and eliminate as much guesswork as possible."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about some of his bad experiences blasting. He talks about one accident in Puerto Rico where the material he was removing exploded in an unexpected manner and damaged nearby buildings. He talks about how he prepares for blasts and tries to calculate exactly how any given scenario will play out. He talks about how DuPont's branch offices communicate with the main office in Wilmington. He summarizes DuPont's organizational structure. He explains that each department was handled as if it were its own miniature company. He talks about diversification in the Explosives Department which makes many different chemicals, not just chemicals related to explosives and suggests a merger with the Special Products Department for reasons of economy.
    Keywords: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Explosions; Explosives; Nitramon; Organization; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Preparation; Puerto Rico; Slide rules; Wilmington (Del.)
  • Moving from Pittsburgh to Wilmington; Problem solving
    Partial Transcript: "I was bought in to bolster the organization..."
    Synopsis: Bickel describes the circumstances that led to him leaving the branch office in Pittsburgh and coming to the main office in Wilmington. He talks about his education. He says that he is happy he no longer must drive as much. He talks about his bosses and compares their backgrounds with those of older managers, noting their technical expertise. He talks about his office's approach to problem solving, noting that he was the person with the most field work experience in his office.
    Keywords: Driving; Management; Organization; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Training; Wilmington (Del.)
  • Speculating on using atomic bombs for commercial purposes; Explosives and blasting
    Partial Transcript: "It's hard to visualize it now, on the other hand, anybody would be crazy in view of past experience to say that it couldn't be done."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about the possibility of using atomic bombs as a commercial explosives. He says that to his knowledge there has been no in-depth study on the blasting capabilities of atomic bombs. He shifts to talking about how some explosives are not suited for blasting.
    Keywords: Atomic bombs; Blasting; Dynamite; Explosives; Prills; Ripple Rock
  • Work during World War II; Nature of job in Wilmington
    Partial Transcript: "I was in Pittsburgh during most of the war..." "I got in contact with a lot more unusual jobs in Wilmington..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about DuPont's collaboration with the government during World War II. He says that he personally did not work with the government. He describes what it was like working for DuPont in Wilmington. He says that he got more unusual jobs in Wilmington and helped coordinate explosions he would never see in Mexico and for the TVA. He explains what coyotes are in the context of blasting. He talks about current blasting projects at mines in Minnesota and Canada.
    Keywords: Coyotes; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Explosives; Mining; Nitramon; Tennessee Valley Authority; TVA; Work; World War (1939-1945)