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The Birth of the Chemical Industry

French chemist Nicolas LeblancThe First chemical to be produced on a large scale was soda (sodium carbonate), which was needed primarily in glass and soap manufacture. In 1787 the French chemist Nicolas Leblanc devised a method of mixing common salt (sodium chloride) with sulphuric acid to produce sodium sulphate, which was then mixed with coal and limestone and roasted. The resultant `black ash` was dissolved in water and then evaporated to extract the soda.

Other important landmarks in the growth of the chemical industry were the products of bleaching powder in 1799, and the invention of synthetic dyes, beginning with Perkin`s mauve 1856.

Today the modern chemical industry can be divided for convenience into three categories: the heavy inorganic sector, which includes drugs and dyes; and the heavy organic sector which includes plastics, man made fibers and paints.

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