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Chemurgy movement

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The chemurgy movement was a movement promoting the manufacture of chemical, industrial and consumer products from agricultural raw material as opposed to fossil fuels and other non-renewables. The movement was popularized during the Great Depression and forgotten shortly thereafter. Plastics from corn and soybeans, "agrol" — a biofuel similar to today's E-85 - fueling cars, and film from cellulose are examples.

Although potentially scientifically valid, the chemurgy movement was annoyingly utopian in its claims. It also had just enough red flags about it to give one pause: Henry Ford was a big supporter, the early movement was associated with right-wing critics of the Roosevelt Administration, and the movement's leading light who coined the term "chemurgy", William Hale. Hale was a brilliant chemist from Dow who nonetheless believed in a crank theory of history that all the world's problems could be traced to ancient Babylonian banking practices, which chemurgy had the promise of finally freeing mankind from. Senator Theodore Bilbo, a Dixiecrat from Mississippi, looking for new ways to use southern cotton, was a later supporter.

Chemurgy could be considered as two different movements; one, the mainstream movement of industrialists pragmatically seeking out new resources. The other, the millenarian utopian movement typified by William Hale, whose views went deep into crank magnetism, encompassing Atlantis, the Great Flood, British Israelism, locating the origin of both world wars in the invention of the Haber-Bosch process for synthesizing ammonia, and locating prophecies encoded into the Great Pyramid that the capitalist system would collapse in 1953 and a new chemurgic utopia would emerge in 1986. Hale was further opposed to any trade at all between nations, and so proposed the nations of the world federate into four superstates he termed "sations", each of which would have a completely isolated, self-sufficient chemurgic economy.

Needless to say, the pragmatic movement had some influence on society while Hale's milleniarian vision did not.

By 1938, the pilot "agrol" plant had shut down, and the 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act opened four federal government laboratories to do experiments in industrial and chemical uses of farm crops, effectively mainstreaming and co-opting the movement. Eventually the U.S. government would use several agriculture-derived industrial products during World War II. The chemurgy movement continued in some form until 1977 although little noticed by then, ironically disappearing completely just before biofuels first gained widespread interest during the 1979 energy crisis.

Greens and renewable energy advocates who have some similar ideas about replacing fossil fuels with renewables are mostly unaware of chemurgy or its history. Marijuana advocates who claim with utopian certainty that all sorts of products can be produced from hemp, if only it were legal, are probably the closest thing today to the chemurgy movement, and some of them have dusted off this old movement and promote it as a further example of how marijuana can save the planet. The movement's utopian crank scientism and William Hale's conspiratorial view of history smack more of a cross between the technocracy movement and Lyndon LaRouche.