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The following is an excerpt from the book “Treasures of the Longleaf Pines Naval Stores”, Carroll B. Butler, author. The book was published by Tarkel Publishing, ©1998 Carroll B. Butler. This reproduction is with the permission of the author.
TURPENTINE – MAJOR USES
There were many uses of turpentine and rosin, but a limited number of uses consumed the vast majority of the production. The major industrial and retail users of turpentine as a solvent for paint and varnish were the automotive, railroad, and the building trades. Retail markets were also major users of turpentine as a paint thinner for household consumption. The development of mineral spirits from crude petroleum and its lower price, coupled with its use as an adequate thinner, reduced the demand for gum turpentine as a thinner. The American Turpentine Farmers Association Cooperative sponsored a national advertising effort in various publications and radio to promote the household use of turpentine.
The use of turpentine in pharmaceuticals and chemicals in the 1920s was relatively small, but in the 1940s the consumption of turpentine by these industries was significant. Early pharmaceutical uses included disinfectants, liniments, medicated soaps, salves, and Haarlem oil. Gum turpentine currently produced at the one remaining US central still at Baxley, Georgia, [now closed], is used by the pharmaceutical industry. Several liniments including Sloans, Watkins White Crème, and Easy Rub utilize turpentine. Vicks Vapor Rub and Numol are two other products that include turpentine.
The manufacture of many synthetics utilizes turpentine. The Hercules Powder Company started producing synthetic resins in 1942. The resin esters were another group of synthetic resins which utilized turpentine in the production process. The production of terpines, terpinolene, and terpin hydrate also used turpentine.
German, Swiss, and Italian plants were producing synthetic camphor from pinene, the essence of turpentine. Large-scale production of synthetic camphor in the US began with a Dupont plant in 1932. Large quantities of camphor were used in making photographic film used by the Army and Navy. Other camphor uses included shoelace tips, drafting instruments, and slide rules. In 1946, sufficient synthetic camphor met the plastic industry’s demand for 5,000,000 pounds per year. Arabian physicians of the eleventh century appreciated the medicinal advantages of camphor, which was distilled from camphor wood. Crude bamboo tubes condensed the white crystals. In 1895, the cellulose plastic of camphor was used as a plasticizer in transforming chemically treated cotton into combs, umbrella handles, toys, and celluloid collars.
One of the early uses of turpentine was as an illuminant. The American Farmer publication in 1833 described a mixture of turpentine and castor oil as a fluid for use in lamps. In 1834, the Southern Agriculturist publication provided a description of another lamp fluid, consisting of a mixture of rectified oil of turpentine and alcohol. By 1843, the latter camphene lamps were in extensive use. The camphene oil was a highly rectified oil of turpentine or pine oil produced by multiple distillation. Alcohol was used in the camphene mixture to reduce the tendency of the turpentine to smoke and exude an odor. The downside of the alcohol addition was increased volatility of the fluid. A mixture of the vapors of these fluids with air was highly explosive. An 1852 improvement to the camphene lamp consisted of an adaptation of the lamp used by miners that kept the flame out of contact with vapors emitting from the fluid. By the late 1850s camphene lamps were being replaced by adamantine candles and kerosene, which was produced from coal. The use of kerosene in the lamps reduced the fire and explosive hazard common to the camphene lamp. Another attractive feature of kerosene was its lower cost compared to camphene. Porcher* provided the following uses of turpentine in 1863:
"Turpentine is now one of the most uniformly employed of remedial agents. It is quite surprising to how great a diversity of conditions it is applicable. All these depend, however, upon its natural properties. As an external rubefacient, a stimulant, and astringent, a stimulating diuretic and laxative, it admits of frequent application. To burn turpentine in lamps it only requires purification by re-distillation and a burner which will give increased oxygen for the consumption of the large amount of carbon which it contains.
"Turpentine is one of the best means of chasing away fleas, whether from place or animal and a bed of very fine shavings of some wood which abounds in turpentine is one of the easiest and most effective means of banishing them from dogs. Wilson states that the oil of turpentine is almost a specific for spasm in the bowels of the horse.
"Turpentine and rosins are both abundantly within our limits. An excellent English mixture to render leather water-proof is made of turpentine. In the present scarcity of leather and exposure of our soldiers I think its introduction not inappropriate. It is used by the punt shooters in the fenny parts of England. Melt together in an earthen pipkin half a pound of tallow, four ounces of hog’s lard, two ounces of turpentine, and as much beeswax. Make the booth thoroughly dry and warm and rub in the mixture well with a little tow as hot as the hand can bear, or else hold the leather over a very gentle fire till it has thoroughly imbibed the mixture. Another mixture for the same purpose is made thus: Burgundy pitch and turpentine, each two ounces; tallow, four ounces, or half a pound of beeswax, a quarter of a pound of rosin, and a quarter of a pound of beef suet. The leather must be dry and the mixture warm.
"To make cloth waterproof with turpentine for the use of Negroes in picking cotton when the weed is wet from rains or dews, and also for tents, the following method is adopted: To every gallon of spirits of turpentine put two and a half pounds of beeswax, boil well in a pot, remove the fire, and while it is hot put in the goods. Move it about until well saturated, then hang it up to dry. It will require one gallon of turpentine to every eight yards of goods. It is more pliant than India Rubber."
The market for gum or wood turpentine has changed dramatically since the 1930s when turpentine was used extensively for retail and industrial solvents. Industrial uses such as paint, varnish, lacquer, shoe polish, and foundry supplies, which once were important, declined by 1962 to represent less than two percent of domestic turpentine consumption. By the 1940s, the use of rosin in pharmaceuticals and chemicals resulted from research within those industries. In 1960, chemical products included in the overall category chemicals and pharmaceuticals accounted for 71 percent of all domestic consumption. Currently, most wood turpentine is upgraded into chemicals, resins and adhesives, pine oil and diptene solvents, and diluents. Fragrance chemicals are currently the most rapidly growing market, consuming about one-third of the turpentine processed.
TURPENTINE – OTHER USES
Shoe polish containing gum turpentine was preferred by bootblacks because of its aroma. The use of emulsified dressing began to replace the paste type polish. Furniture polish included a mixture of turpentine and sweet oil. Stove polish used a mixture of turpentine and rosin. Auto wax, copper polishes, and liquid floor wax also used turpentine.
Turpentine was used as a cement ingredient for metal, leather, and rubber cements. It was used as a laboratory cement for gas tight joints, cleaning solvent to remove paint and other compounds from tools or skin, lubricant in grinding and drilling glass, and stain remover.
Turpentine was used in drawing crayons, printing inks, laundry indelible marking ink, mixtures to waterproof and preserve leather, and waterproof cloth, tents, and covers for wagons. It was used for washing clothes or removing grease from clothes, and rinse to whiten clothes. It was used as a mild fumigate, an insecticide to rid ants and bugs from closets and storerooms, to moth proof closets, drawers, and clothing, on animals, fowls, and fruit trees, to get rid of unwanted pests, to chase away fleas, and to repel insects from trees using bands of turpentine.
Turpentine was used as a solvent in the rubber industry. The demand for turpentine as a solvent increased when the demand for rubber increased, as new applications of rubber were discovered. Other applications as solvents included waterproofing and resins in lacquers and varnishes.
TURPENTINE HOME USES
A typical home used turpentine. It was used to fight infection, to relieve soreness, and to aid heating of boils, cuts and bruises. If one suffered insect bites or athlete’s foot, one applied liberal amounts on affected parts. Other home medical uses included treatment of burns, blisters, rheumatism, snakebite, croup, worms, coughing, and sore throats.** Mary Frier of Nicholls, Georgia, filled small jars with cotton balls soaked in turpentine. Open jars were placed in several rooms throughout the house to counter a cold or infection. Joanna Calhoun Peterson of Montgomery County Georgia, used the following recipe for liniment, .33 turpentine, .33 kerosene oil and .33 Neatt’s-foot oil. Neatt’s-foot oil was made by boiling the bones of cattle. Harriet Britt’s liniment consisted of one-cup apple vinegar, one-cup turpentine, one-cup kerosene, one-cup whiskey, and five cents of camphor dissolved in the solution.
To keep moths and other insects away, turpentine was sprayed or brushed on clothing at 30-day intervals and a few drops placed in chiffonier or bureau drawers. Bugs, roaches, ants, or other insects fled a home where gum turpentine was freely used. In laundry, a few drops of gum turpentine added to water in washing clothes made them sweeter and whiter. It was easy to keep a clean home with pure gum turpentine. It cleaned furniture, woodwork, floors, windows, bath tops, porcelain fixtures, linoleum, silver, and other metals. It was used as furniture polish. One part turpentine and two parts linseed oil were mixed for an unexcelled and economical furniture polish.
*”Surgeon Francis Peyre Porcher listed uses of turpentine and rosin products in 1863, including medical uses. He considered the longleaf pine one of God’s great gifts to man.” pp 176
**Excessive internal use of turpentine could be deadly.