Pesti Hírlap

War Chemistry for beginners or what do you use saltpetre for?

Saltpetre or potassium nitrate is an inorganic compound of potassium. It is used as an oxidizer in black powder. Black powder (gunpowder) is a mixture of sulphur, charcoal, potassium nitrate (saltpetre). The charcoal and the sulphur act like fuels and the saltpetre acts like oxidizer. 74% of the gunpowder compound consists of saltpetre so this explains why constant supply was needed.
Main produce of saltpetre came from the mining cities on the highlands in Hungary, but from the 17th century they mass-produced saltpetre at Nagykőrös, Kecskemét and Cegléd too. These were later transported to the Turkish powder-mill in Buda. A century later there was hardly any city in the highlands or Central Hungary where they didn’t produce the compound. Making of the nitric acid was controlled by the exchequer and the work was done by mainly village people and country town men. The production started with getting the right quality of the powder. When organisms got into the ground, if there was enough amounts of bacteria, great amount of potassium nitrate occurred. This was dissolved by humidity and moisture from the ground. As this compound surfaced through to the capillaries of the ground, after the evaporation of its liquid, the potassium nitrites crystallized (potassium nitrite flowers) and were collected. The places used for collecting potassium nitrate were called barn-floor, garden. The collected saltpetre was cleaned by leaching and brewing and the ready saltpetre was transported to the saltpetre houses under military control.

During the First World War, one of the most important resources of saltpetre was in Chile. However due to the blockade by the Entente it was unreachable for Germany who was one of their biggest procurer. Due to this issue, they started to use other type of explosives and later poison gases in the trenches. Since the importance of saltpetre decreased greatly after the World War(s), now a visitor may only find abandoned mining cities in Chile.

Black powder is not in use anymore (apart from the traditional guns).

Created by: Eszter Kaba

A salétrom = Pesti Hírlap, 1914. december 7.

Since there is a great need for saltpetre to produce ammunition and since we cannot import this material from abroad, the home secretary in his enactment calls for the attention of majors and of sub-prefects to urgently determine the saltpetre amounts and whereabouts in their area. When these reports arrive, the military command will lay their hands on them based on the law of military service.