c.1917 1

Barbour Chemical Works was a chemical factory from 1916-c.1918 at 766 - 50th Avenue. It was the scene of at least 2 fatal accidents.

The main source of its barytes for producing barium compounds was the El Portal Mine Co. mine which was about 1 mile downstream from El Portal, just west of Yosemite Valley. 8 During WWI, it was under contract with the federal government to produce "acid for use in the making of high explosives." 11

The 1916 Oakland directory lists E. Humboldt as the superintendent. 14 The 1916 San Francisco directory lists an office at 354 Pine St. 15

There are few mentions of Barbour in the newspapers besides stories about the accidents. [ Trade journals and other sources suggest that sometime before 1920, Barbour had either moved to San Francisco or closed its Oakland plant. 7 Possibly following the explosion in 1918? 10 It's also possible the headquarters was and continued to be in SF. ]


In 1916, Leo Lombardi fell into a tank of barium chloride. He was able to free himself, but died later of his injuries. 2,13

July 21, 1917 headline 3

A July 1917 accident led to 2 fatalities and several injuries. Manuel Vierra was sent into a tank to clean it or fell in, and was overcome by fumes. Frank M. Gonsalves attempted to rescue him and was also overcome. Others, including James W. Bradshaw, Sr.; James W. Bradshaw, Jr.; August Mendoza and Wilbur Smith were injured in rescue attempts. Finally, firefighter Emil C. Alvers, wearing a Draeger helmet with a compressed air supply, was able to rescue the men. Gonsalves died after being removed from the tank. Vierra died two days later. 3,4,5

A coroner's jury found that the company wasn't providing proper safeguards. 9

Gonsalves' widow Julia Gonsalves was given a settlement by Barbour and the Guardian Casualty Company of $2,023.91, of which she planned to spend $1,900 on purchasing their home. She originally won a weekly payment, but refused that in preference for a lump sum. At this time, an article says the Gonsalves had 13 children, and Julia was supporting them all on $90 a month earned by the oldest 3 children working at the cotton mills. 6

In 1918, a "mysterious explosion" destroyed a barium sulphate tank and damaged the building it was in. The blast was felt 10 miles away. 10 The justice department investigated, to try to determine if spies might have been involved. 11

Links and References

  1. copl_006_page038 Oakland History Room Collections
  2. Fall Into Vat of Chemicals Is Fatal Oakland Tribune July 3, 1916
  3. Deadly Fumes in Container Cause of Tragic Death Oakland Tribune July 21, 1917
  4. Gas Tragedy May Claim 4 More Deaths Oakland Tribune July 22, 1917
  5. Gas Victim Dies Oakland Tribune July 23, 1917
  6. Ninety A Month Made To Sustain A Family of 14 Oakland Tribune October 25, 1917
  7. Chemical Engineering Catalog 1923
  8. Journal of the Senate Forty-Second Session, 1917
  9. Are Not Guarded Oakland Tribune July 24, 1917
  10. Mysterious Explosion At Oakland Factory Riverside Daily Press January 31, 1918
  11. Mystery Explosion in War Plant Probed Los Angeles Herald January 31, 1918
  12. Gas Kills One Man, Seriously Injures 6 More San Francisco Chronicle July 21, 1917
  13. Falls Into Boiling Chemicals; Will Die San Francisco Chronicle July 3, 1916
  14. Polk-Husted 1916 Oakland Directory
  15. Crocker-Langley 1916 San Francisco Directory