Dynamite, invented by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel in 1867, is an explosive that harnesses the potential of nitroglycerin to explode. Normally it is sold in an 8 inch long stick and weighs about .6 pounds although other sizes do exist. TNT is usually the standard by which explosive power is gauged; however, dynamite actually has more than 60% greater energy density than TNT.
Nitroglycerin dissolved in nitrocellulose and a small amount of ketone can form another type of dynamite. This type of dynamite is similar to cordite and much safer than the nitroglycerin. The military’s dynamite avoids the use of nitroglycerin altogether.
The mining, quarrying, and construction industries have traditionally made good use of dynamite. It has also been used in warfare although due to its unstable nature it is no longer used in modern military use.
Nobel originally sold dynamite as “Nobel’s Blasting Powder”. Dynamite quickly became popular as an alternative to gunpowder. Nobel’s patent did a good job of shutting down any duplicators, however, some American businessmen got around the patent by using a slightly different formula.
Classic dynamite consists of three parts nitroglycerin, one part diatomaceous earth and a small admixture of sodium carbonate. Nitroglycerin, although a strong explosive, itself is highly unstable and shock-sensitive. This makes it highly dangerous to transport. Through mixing with sawdust the nitroglycerin becomes less sensitive. Over time the nitroglycerin will leak out of the dynamite and can pool in the storage container. Without a blasting cap the possibility of explosion is minimal, but, old dynamite can still be dangerous.
The Republic of South Africa was the biggest producer of dynamite for several decades beginning in the 1940’s. Most of the demand for dynamite came from the gold mines in Africa. There were two explosions in the somerset west plant in the 1960’s due to the dangerous nature of producing dynamite. Damage and loss of life was minimilized by the modular design of the factory. In 1985, trade unions put enough pressure on the AECI to begin phasing out production of dynamite.
In the US, Russell S. Penniman invented ammonium dynamite. This dynamite was marketed with the trade name “Extra”. Dynamite has now been phased out and replaced by the safer to handle water gel explosives.
TNT and dynamite are two separate entities although commonly perceived as the same thing. Dynamite is an absorbent mixture soaked in nitroglycerin. TNT is a specific chemical compound. Other than being explosives, they have not other similarities.