Brandt Writes About 'Mag-nificent' Magnesium in Midland Daily News
March 26, 2013 - Midland, MI
By Cindy Crain Newman
Who knew there was so much to say about magnesium?
E.N. (Ned) Brandt, 90, of Midland for one. At the end of February, he received boxes of his latest book, “We Called It MAG-NIFICENT,” which is a 160-page hardcover published by Michigan State University Press. The book describes the mutually-beneficial relationship between The Dow Chemical Co. and magnesium from 1916-1998.
Chemists know magnesium as Mg, Element 12 on the Periodic Table of the Elements. It’s the lightest commercial metal, one-third lighter than aluminum. Pharmacists will tell you that magnesium compounds are used medicinally in common laxatives and antacids.
Brandt describes the evolution of magnesium manufacturing at Dow, including lots of insights into workplace safety issues and environmental practices. He’s created a part-business book, part-history book and part-science book. As company historian since 1983, Brandt had a wealth of resources available to him, including Dow Archives materials which are now part of the collections of the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. But also incredibly helpful was his personal, extensive knowledge and research from the six years he spent writing the hefty “Growth Company: Dow Chemical’s First Century,” which was published in 1997 for the company’s centennial.
That book totaled 649 pages and weighed about two pounds. Brandt admitted wryly that he learned that “people won’t read a 600-page book.” So he started out on the magnesium book with the objective that “there was not going to be a single superfluous word in it. I ought to go back and check and see. But I must have done it, because the book came out fairly short.”
Interviewed in the offices of the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation where he serves as vice president and secretary of the board of directors, Brandt joked that he stores his book-writing resources “in the john.” And he literally does. In the bathroom off his office are well-organized files of magnesium product literature, news clippings from the 1950s, speeches, Dow newsletters and brochures, videotapes and other resources.
Brandt joined Dow in 1953 when Leland I. Doan was president and CEO. Back then, Brandt had the curiosity of a Michigan State-trained journalist, which he had also honed working overseas as a correspondent for the United Press. He said that he became interested in magnesium from day one of his Dow career. He was housed in the Hopkins Building (next door to corporate headquarters which was in the 47 Building at that time) in Midland, and it also housed Dow’s Magnesium Department. “The ‘mag people’ all believed steadfastly in the merits and the upcoming glorious future of magnesium,” Brandt wrote. By 1988, he was compiling material for a possible book on the subject, and he filled in any gaps in historical records by conducting lengthy recorded interviews with key people.
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