Welcome to the CCCGS blog.

The purpose of this blog is to promote the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society by announcing upcoming events and reporting on past events. In doing so, I hope it will encourage all who are interested to attend any of our events and meetings, and share in our enthusiasm of genealogical research.


August 28, 2010

Giant Powder Company-Dynamite!

Contra Costa County has a wonderful richness in it's history. Many famous people lived here, visited here and left their mark. Today I want to talk about a company instead of person. The Giant Powder Company was the first in the United States to manufacture commercial dynamite. The company was granted an exclusive license from Alfred Nobel . The company started in 1868 with locations in Glen Cove and West Berkeley and closed in 1961. It was a very dangerous business to be in. The buildings blew up at least two times and these events were documented in newspapers as far away as the New York Times. The company moved to what is now called the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline after a major explosion in July 1892. Originally, the land was part of Rancho San Pablo granted to Francisco Maria Castro in 1823. The Giant Powder Company moved there to become isolated from the general population for safety reasons. Later the company was sold to the Atlas Powder Company and sold to Bethlehem Steel in 1964.

From California Historical Landmarks:

Pt. Pinole is the last site of the Giant Powder Company, the first company in America to produce dynamite. Following devistating (sic) explosions at their San Francisco and Berkeley sites, the business moved to this location in 1892. Incorporating the established Croation community of Sobrento, the company town of Giant quickly grew into one of the North Bay's industrial centers. Explosives were produced here until 1960 and were essential to mining, dam building, and other construction projects throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Giant Powder Company had it's own housing for employees and their families. There we 20 to 30 families that lived there. The little community was called Giant. My great grandfather was the postmaster at the Giant Post Office in the early 1900's and my grandfather worked for Giant Powder Company for over 30 years. My father was born there.

The 1920 U.S. Census lists the Contra Costa County, Township 10, Giant Precinct (see pages 36-42). There were family residences as well as one large boarding house for single men who worked there as laborers. Occupations were Powder Maker, Foreman, Stock Clerk, Machinists.

In 1989, my father granted an interview for the East Bay District Parks Archives. In it, he discusses what it was like living there. The following are excerpts from his interview.

There were several buildings. Activities were limited in each building. There also was a limited as to the number of men allowed inside a building at any one time. The limit was THREE. This was for safety reasons. If a building blew up, it limited the number of casualties. There were several explosions in the area. There were three or four accidents with fatalities.

Giant School had about 30 students in two rooms. Pupils all came from Giant.


In my family archives, I have a company photo taken in March, 1932. There are 103 men and 1 woman in the photo. I also have all of their names. Unfortunately, the photo is larger than my scanner at this writing. If you want me to check for a name on it, write me at ancestor_hunter@yahoo.com. Cheers!

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