The City of Nitro was founded during World War I as a town built around Plant C that supplied 700,000 pounds of Nitro-Cellulose, or gunpowder, a day. Thus, the name of the town came to be Nitro. There was a mixture of nationalities in the area when the War Department broke ground on the first barracks on December 23, 1917. The town flourished into a booming industrial town in a matter of months, and allowed for the expansion in population and new businesses.
When the United States entered World War I, it immediately recognized that it had
a gunpowder shortage. Officials needed to find areas to alleviate the shortage that would be somewhat
resistant of an attack, but also able to get supplies to the plants by train. Nitro
was chosen as the first area to build a plant. The Deficiency Appropriations
Act of October 1917 allowed for the funds to build this plant and three others.
Each plant was to make 500,000 pounds of gunpowder a day, but the War Department
increased it to 700,000 pounds so that only two plants would be required--one at Nitro, West Virginia and a second in Nashville, Tennessee.
On December 23, 1917, ground was broken on construction of 27 barracks that would house 200 men each. Practically
overnight, the town was booming with thousands of workers and materials arriving. During
the eleven months it took to build the plant almost 110,000 workers were on the
payroll and 104 railroad cars of materials were used to turn a muddy field into
a sprawling piece of American engineering.
By the time the war came to an end on November 11, 1918, the
city of Nitro housed almost 24,000 families. Purportedly, at one time the City of Nitro had
a higher population than Charleston. Of course, this was short lived since the
war was over and the United States no longer needed significant amounts of gunpowder.
Plant “C” was put up for sale after one week of operation and the excess materials became surplus. A firm backed by several wealthy businessmen from
Charleston, WV and New York bought the business and residential facilities for
$8,551,500. Instead of the housing being provided by paying rent, the
businessmen gave residents the opportunity to buy their homes at a very low
cost. Most of the residents took up this offer but many were also willing to
just pay the rent.
The place was built up so fast,” one says, that
the workers could scarcely find their way home in the evening. Most of the
houses looked alike and two more blocks would be erected while the men were at
work during the day. So, when a man started home he wouldn't know which house
New businesses began sprouting up in the town and that
brought in new residents. The town was booming as the wartime memories faded.
The Charleston Industrial Corporation was able to promote the attractiveness of
this business hub to attract other businesses. There was a surplus of unused buildings
and machinery that could be used and employed many people in the town.
This brought in new people from out of state.
Once the munition plant was closed the chemical industry
turned its eyes towards the Kanawha and Putnam counties area. This would
include the City of Nitro. In 1921, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company saw Nitro
as an ideal place to set up a plant to create their products. They incorporated
the Rubber Services Laboratories and built that factory in Nitro in 1922. In
1929, Monsanto purchased the plant. In 1936, The American Viscose plant
began building in Nitro and this plant manufactured rayon staple fibre. This
was one of the largest plants in Nitro, employing over 1,000 men and women and was the largest staple rayon plant in the word by 1945. There were other chemical companies that resided in Nitro: Ohio Apex Chemical, Elko Chemical, the Nitro Pencil Company, the Nitro Soap Factory, and Fike Chemical. In February 2012, Monsanto agreed to settle a case covering Dioxin contamination around a plant in Nitro that made Agent Orange during the Vietnam era. Monsanto agreed to pay up to $9 million for cleanup of affected homes, $84 million for medical monitoring of people affected, and the community's legal fees
Today, the once-dominant chemical industry has waned in Nitro and the surrounding area. Industry is still part of the region's history and is very much celebrated throughout
the year with different festivals. Nitro celebrates its military history
with parades and many monuments throughout the city. Examples of the
celebrations are the Nitro “Boom Town” event and the “Nitro Horse Parade.”