• U.S.

GERMANY: Nitrates, Astronomy

3 minute read

Bold barons of finance afloat on a huge white yacht. Big names: Sir Alfred Mond “Biggest British Chemist,” Irénée du Pont, and many another. Germans the hosts. Secret talk about nitrates. The yacht steams down the blue Adriatic from Venice to Corfu and returns. Meanwhile banquetingto tempt Lucullus. Scuppers running with champagne. But always more and more earnest talk of nitrates. The whole junket an achievement in making pleasure implicit with business. . . .

Press despatches to the above effect, last week, were exaggerations, but not essentially untrue. The key hyperbole was to describe as “one of the handsomest private yachts in the world” the prosaic German steamer Lutzow. Factually speaking the Lutzow had been chartered by German chemical interests allied with the famed “I. G.”—Interessen Gemeinschaft Farbenindmtrie Aktiengesellschaft—for the purpose of holding a general nitrate pow wow and technical discussion of nitrate problems among the world’s best chemical minds.

Sir Alfred Mond was aboard the Lutzow. So was Irénée du Pont, representing the world potent E. I. du Pont de Nemours chemical firm of Wilmington, Del.

Dr. Walter S. Landis spoke for the American Cyanamid Co.; and Professor Harry Alfred Curtis of Yale listened in behalf of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. All the great Scandinavian chemical sel-skabs were well represented, as were Italian firms, and from France came the learned Professor L. Bretangnière most hospitable and informatively loquacious was famed Herr Doktor J. Bueb of the “I. G.” Herr Doktor Bueb suggested complacently that it is a duty of governments to abolish all tariffs or taxes on nitrogen fertilizers and to secure their transport at preferential freight rates, because the more nitrate fertilization is encouraged the greater will be the agricultural produce derived from a given region. Be coming mildly technical, he pointed with thoroughgoing pride to the new German synthetic fertilizers nitrate of lime and nitrophoska. “The demand for nitrophoska,” exulted Herr Doktor Bueb, “has frequently been greatly in excess of the available supply.” Aboard the Lutzow, last week, there were few if any “hush hush” conferences among the chemical tycoons; and no immediate prospect exists that an internationalnitrate trust agreement will be concluded paralleling those now affecting pot ash, industrial chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, steel & copper. The Lutzow party was a party of technicians, and therefore the great U. S. du Pont chemical interests were appropriately represented by jovial, alert Irénée du Pont, 51. Although his duties have been wholly executive for a generation or more, he still retains a dexterousand discerning skill in the technical processes of the laboratory. His hands are not so habituated to the enormous weight of a pen as to hamper him in adjusting with nice precision scales which are sensitive to minute infinitesimals of a miligram. Naturally Technician Irénée du Pont is nonchalant though extremely circumspect in the presence of high explosives—a major product of the du Pont industries. His coolness in the presence of trinitrotoluene famed as “T. N. T.,” does not however carry over into social intercourse. Aboard the Lutzow, last week, he displayed affability in small talk, learning where chemicals were concerned, and kindling interest at any chance mention of subjects related to his hobby, astronomy. For the moment Irénée du Pont is Vice Chairman of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com