In the late 1930s, Freeport, Texas had everything a chemical company could want - seawater rich in magnesium and bromine, a proximity to natural gas reserves and salt domes, a large harbor and beautiful weather on an important day.
While looking to build an expansion plant on the Gulf Coast, Dow officials, including Willard Dow and Dr. A.P. Beutel, studied potential locales from New Orleans, Louisiana down to Brownsville, Texas. As the coastal tour came to a close, two sites stood above the rest: Corpus Christi and Freeport.
Corpus Christi was a town with hospitals, schools and the infrastructure to support a mass influx of workers. Freeport was a small village in the middle of marshland with little to offer in facilities and services.
With a majority of executives favoring Corpus Christi, a board of directors' meeting was held at Corpus' Driskell Hotel to make a final decision on the future plant's location. But a verdict was never reached as a bitter "norther" blew into town, bringing with it a massive ice storm. The hotel's poor heating system added to the misery as none of the executives had brought clothes for such inclement weather.
The Dow officials were soon on a train to Houston followed by a drive down to Freeport where it was nice and warm. Soon after, March 7, 1940, Dow Chemical bought 800 acres bordering Freeport Harbor. The better climate in Freeport wasn't the deciding factor, but it didn't hurt.
An $18 million plant was authorized by the Dow board. The first load of construction equipment arrived in Freeport by train March 22, 1940, but did not reach its final destination until two days later when the railroad was extended to the plant site. Soon after the track was finished workers began building in the area known today as Plant A.
One of the first Dow plants in Texas extracted magnesium from seawater, which significantly aided the Allies, who were desperate for the metal at the outset of World War II. The magnesium plant came online Jan. 21, 1941, marking the first time that man had mined the ocean for a metal.
By the end of the year, Dow's Texas Division had its own power plant and was producing a variety of products including magnesium, chlorine, caustic soda and ethylene. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Government asked Dow to step up its magnesium production, so a second plant was constructed north of Plant A in nearby Velasco (known today as Plant B). Dow chose to build farther inland for protection against the possibility of a U-boat attack.
As the Texas Division of Dow continued to grow, it became harder for the workers building and operating the plants to find living quarters. So Beutel, the site's general manager, organized the construction of "Camp Chemical," a temporary housing area. At its pinnacle, "Camp Chemical" was the largest city in Brazoria County and home to more than 12,000 people.
With help from the U.S. Government, construction on the project began Feb. 20, 1942, and was completed in a month's time. "Camp Chemical" consisted of more than 2,000 16'x16' cottages for married workers and 46 barracks able to house 120 men each. It also contained a cafeteria that could seat 1,000, a school, a large store, an entertainment hall, a ballpark, a fire house and a police station. Roads, sidewalks, running water, sewer lines and electricity kept it running. Soon after the war ended, "Camp Chemical" was torn down to make room for more plants.
As "Camp Chemical" was being built, Willard Dow, his brother Alden, and Beutel set out to find a location to build a permanent city. They explored nearby areas by horseback, becoming intrigued by an area not far from Freeport that was once the Abner Jackson plantation. A freshwater lake on the property was dubbed Lake Jackson, so the men decided to give their new town the same name.
Alden Dow was put in charge of creating Lake Jackson and in early 1943 workers started to clear the land. By the summer, paved streets such as Winding Way and Yaupon had already popped up. Alden designed Lake Jackson as a home for 5,000 people, giving the city winding and meandering streets because he felt there should be something of a surprise around each turn.
Alden showed his sense of humor by giving many of the streets clever names like "This Way" and "That Way." For homes, people were able to choose from six unique Alden designs. The first residents moved into Lake Jackson at the end of 1943. In 1944, Dow Texas Operations began to ship chemicals by marine vessels to customers all over the world.
In 1948, Stratton Ridge began operations for brine mining and hydrocarbon storage. President John F. Kennedy became a part of Texas Operations' history June 21, 1961, by ceremoniously pushing a button in Washington, D.C. to activate Dow's seawater desalination plant. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson presided over the ceremonies in Freeport.
By 1963 the site covered more than 3,000 acres and was the largest basic chemical processing plant in the world. Texas Operations continued to grow with the building of the first plants at the Oyster Creek facility in 1969.
Today, Texas Operations is Dow's largest integrated site. The four major complexes — Plant A, Plant B, Oyster Creek and Salt Dome — operate as an integrated unit spanning 7,000 acres. The site contains more than 3,200 acres of waterways and pipeline corridors and houses more than 1,900 buildings across the site.
The products manufactured on site are transported by rail, truck, marine vessels and pipeline to customers around the world. Texas Operations manufactures 44 percent of Dow's products sold in the United States and more than 21 percent of Dow's products sold globally. Texas Operations is led by a site leader and a Business Park Team focused on making Texas Operations "The Best Integrated Site for Business Success."