Nitrate Plant, Chile


This photograph is from the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress. Frank G. Carpenter (1855–1924) was an American writer of books on travel and world geography, whose works helped to popularize cultural anthropology and geography in the United States in the early years of the 20th century. Consisting of photographs taken and gathered by Carpenter and his daughter Frances (1890–1972) to illustrate his writings, the collection includes an estimated 16,800 photographs and 7,000 glass and film negatives. The photograph appeared in Carpenter's New Geographical Reader: South America (1927) with the caption: “A nitrate factory, showing the vats in which the liquor is kept until the salt drops to the bottom.” The text explained that nitrate “is found on the east side of a low range of hills from fifteen to nineteen miles back from the sea. The nitrate beds are usually covered with layers of salt rock and sand, but in some places they lie on the top of the ground. They were probably formed when the desert was the bed of an inland sea, and the decay of vast quantities of seaweed containing nitrogen produced nitrate of soda. Nitrate is readily dissolved in water, and if the region were not rainless, the beds would have been long ago washed away.”

Last updated: September 29, 2014