SIC 2892

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing explosives. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing ammunition for small arms are classified in SIC 3482: Small Arms Ammunition, and those manufacturing fireworks are classified in SIC 2899: Chemicals and Chemical Preparations, Not Elsewhere Classified.

NAICS Code(s)

325920 (Explosives Manufacturing)

Historically, the explosives industry has been closely aligned with the coal mining industry. According to The Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME) the coal industry consumed 67 percent of explosives manufactured in the United States in the late 1990s and remained the largest application for explosives use in the United States. Historically, explosives such as black powder have been used in the United States to mine for minerals, break rock, clear fields, and build roads. After Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and the blasting cap required to make it explode, he licensed his discoveries in the United States. Mines could now be dug deeper and more quickly with dynamite, thereby making mining more profitable.

By 1905, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, one of the largest U.S. explosives companies, supplied 56 percent of the production of explosives in the United States. DuPont continued to strengthen its hold on the market; by 1907 the U.S. government had begun antitrust proceedings against the company. In 1912 DuPont was forced to divest segments of its business, which resulted in Atlas Chemical Industries and the Hercules Powder Company. Later, Atlas was purchased by Imperial Chemical Industries PLC, DuPont's explosives division was sold to Explosives Technologies International, and Hercules' explosives division was sold to Dyno Nobel, Inc.

In the early years of the industry, the volatile nature of explosives played a significant role in the organization of explosives manufacturers. Companies operated numerous small plants to ensure that their entire business would not be wiped out in the event of an explosion. In addition, plants were located near the consumer rather than the raw materials sources because of the danger in transporting the product.

Products of the explosives industry have changed dramatically over the years. ANFO, or ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil, was invented in 1953. Since 1959, it has become the most widely utilized explosive in surface coal mining. By the early 1990s, ANFO held 75 percent of the market. Thus, dynamite declined in importance from about one billion pounds in the mid-1950s to approximately 100 million pounds in 1993. Because of the drastic decline in the use of dynamite, manufacturing plants for that product decreased from 30 in the 1950s to just one, which was owned by Dyno Nobel, in 1993. In place of dynamite, emulsions gained popularity in the 1990s because of their water resistance and low density.

In the late 1990s, 101 establishments were in operation in the explosives manufacturing industry. Roughly 3 million metric tons of explosives were produced in the United States. The coal industry continued to be the largest domestic user, accounting for 67 percent of total explosives consumption. The rest of the explosives production was distributed among quarrying and nonmetal mining industries (14 percent), the metal mining industry (9 percent), construction industries (7 percent), and miscellaneous uses (3 percent). Ammonium nitrate-based explosives accounted for 99 percent of production, or 2.86 metric tons.

The value of explosives industry shipments declined from $1.44 billion in 1997 to $1.24 billion in 1998 and to $1.01 billion in 1999, before rebounding slightly in 2000 to $1.13 billion. Over this time period, coal mining, the largest domestic user of explosives, showed its greatest growth in the West. Western surface mines contained less overburden rock and thus required fewer explosives to reach the coal. That trend may be offset by changes in weather patterns, which would result in a greater demand for coal, which could also have a substantial impact on coal demand and, thus, impact the consumption of explosives in the early 2000s.

As a result of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City and the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, there was a push at the federal level to require that all explosives and potential explosive components such as fertilizer be manufactured with taggants—color-coded, multilayered particles. These particles bear a unique signature and can be seen under a microscope, enabling identification of the manufacturer's batch lot by an explosives expert. In 1996, Congress enacted anti-terrorism legislation, which mandated the study of the feasibility of placing identification taggants in explosives. This study was the responsibility of the Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and was contracted out to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct a third-party examination. The NAS report was completed and issued in March 1998 and concluded that it was not appropriate to require commercial explosives to contain identification taggants considering the level of threat in the late 1990s. The ATF also issued an interim report in March 1998 that stated that any effort intended to have a measurable impact on the prevention and investigation of bombing incidents had to be an integrated one. In October 1999 the IME's recommendation was that it was not in the best interests of the industry, the public, the environment, or law enforcement to mandate taggants in commercial explosives. It also seemed likely that the explosives manufacturers would not welcome any further action on the part of Congress.

The total number of industry employees declined from nearly 9,000 in 1997 to roughly 8,000 in 2000. Total payroll costs declined from $312 million to $301 million over the same time period. The industry's 5,398 production workers earned an average hourly wage of $15.97 in 2000.

Further Reading

"Be Aware for America." The Fertilizer Institute, 1999. Available from .

"The Debate About Invisible Detectives." U.S. News & World Report, 16 September 1996.

"Explosives Manufacturing." U.S. Census Bureau, 1997 Economic Census, Manufacturing, Industry Series, August 1999.

Kramer, Deborah. "Explosives." Minerals Yearbook, Volume 1—Metals and Minerals, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 1998. Available from http://minerals.usgsgov/minerals/pubs/commodity/explosives/index.html .

"Product Liability Could Be the Real Issue With Taggants." Chemical & Engineering News, 26 August 1996.

Robinson, Kevin. "Devices Detect Explosive Residue." Phonics Spectra, July 1998.

"Taggants Become an Issue." Coal Age, December 1996.

"Taggants in Explosives." Institute of Makers of Explosives, October 1999.

"Tagged Out." Science News, 14 September 1996.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

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