In November 1956, there was a devastating fire in the Highland foothills driven by “lashing winds.” The San Bernardino Sun newspaper had photos of some of the devastation. Included was the burning remains of the Trojan Powder Company at 400 E. Highland Ave. (Highland Avenue near Boulder). The caption read: “WITH A BANG – The Trojan Powder Co. on Highland Avenue near Boulder Avenue collapses in flames.” The plant was totally destroyed, but most explosives were removed before the fire reached the site. Reports said a small amount of dynamite exploded.”
Maybe some older than I remember this plant, but I did not. I was somewhat astounded that a dynamite plant would be located on a site so vulnerable to fire. I did not find a date when the plant began, and I thought the fire of 1956 may have closed the plant, but reports were found as late as 1961.
My curiosity, however, was aroused and the hunt began for more information. There was a fair amount of reports about the company, but not of a very positive nature as it seems there was insufficient security for so dangerous a plant, and the proof of this follows.
Newspapers reported that in 1953 rabbit hunters found a truckload of dynamite and blasting powder hidden in the brush south of E. 3rd Street, east of East Highlands.
Three 19-year-old youths were arrested in connection with theft from the explosives plant.
Again in 1957, explosives were stolen from the Trojan Powder Co. shed in East Highlands.
In 1958, dynamite was stolen by a former Redlands resident and a U.R. student who tried to blast the flag pole in front of the Administration building.
The one positive story I found involved a truck driver for Trojan. Walter Rosenbaum was involved in a head-on collision (not his fault), and although injured, Rosenbaum ran up the highway warning oncoming traffic to “stay back, she’s due to blow any second.” He probably saved 200 lives that day. Sadly the other driver in the accident perished.
Some interesting information was learned about the Trojan Powder Company. First, Trojan is a type of dynamite. There were, apparently two types, one containing nitroglycerin, and the Trojan powder which contained nitrostarch (non-liquid).
The problem of producing a stable nitrostarch was solved by F.B. Holmes and J.B. Bronstein of DuPont’s Eastern Laboratories.
Bronstein left DuPont and formed a new company in 1905 called the Non-Freezing Powder Company. A fire forced the company to move to a new location which was in Allentown, New Jersey. On September 13, 1905, the Allentown Non-Freezing Powder Company became the Pennsylvania Trojan Powder Company.
The Pacific High Explosives Co. (1906) extended the manufacture of trojan powder to California. In 1912, the company reorganized as California Trojan Powder Co. After World War I the east and west companies merged into one company, the Trojan Powder Company.
And so we came to today’s story, another piece of Highland’s interesting history.