The development and use of explosive over the past century

Table of Content


This paper researches on the history of explosives over the past century, its types and usage.

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A brief introduction of the explosives has been given. The research question or problem is that the explosives accessibility should be limited and restricted for public use because of its negative effects. The method used has been secondary research.

The explosives have been classified as high, low, primary and blasting agents. Disadvantages of the explosives are concerned with safety and health issues, storage, environmental considerations and misuse. Some other uses of explosives have also been mentioned in the paper such as: aerospace, agriculture, art, demolition, excavation, destroying waste, metal hardening, shooting and welding.

Analysis has been made of the findings. Recommendations are also made that include proper recycling, handling, and regulated so there are no misuses of the explosives. Lastly, strict regulations and laws should be made in relation to the usage of different explosives.


With the recent increase in terrorism around the world, it would be quite interesting to know the history of explosives, their original purpose and their use today. Just the word explosives give a picture of warfare, bombings and killing of the innocent lives; in short for destruction.

Explosives basically are made up of one or more combination of substances with the capability of exploding it self using its own energy. They are categorized by the energy stored unto them. Their power is obtained from oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. These chemical reaction take place as small material transforms into larger volume of heat and gas. The expanding heat and gas have the capability to smash buildings and large objects by exploding through heat, shock or electricity. (Akhavan, 2004)

Explosives of any kind solid, liquid or gas consists of fuel and oxidizer, which helps burn and supply oxygen for the fuel respectively. The burning and expansion of gases takes place in thousandths of a second. The expansion of gases results in vicious shockwave. The more there is the pressure of shockwave, the stronger the blast.

Combustion or fire takes place when            oxygen gas joins with a substance. There are substances that do not explode by themselves but explode when there is oxygen near them. Example include: gas, hydrogen, or alcohol. Although they are not explosives but they can set off when there is oxygen in the air.

The use of chemical explosives could be seen in the peacetime besides in the warfare such as rockets into space, mining projects, and fireworks. Although, explosives were built for various different reasons, they are misused today in harming the society as whole. It is true that several types of explosives developed over the years were used for military reasons, construction, mining and engineering companies and other industrial uses; they should be restricted for any other use and to any persons who are not involved in the above purpose regardless how low the explosives are.


The report is based on secondary research i.e. books and internet sources.


             The research conducted from the internet sources have helped study several classification of explosives, their history, many usages, and types of explosives used over the years.

            There are different classifications of explosives:

High explosives
Deflagrate/low explosives
Primary explosives
Secondary explosives
Blasting agents
High explosives are detonated by the influence of shock. Within millionths of a second, explosions take place. Some of the examples of high explosives include TNT (Trinitrotoluene) or nitroglycerine, RDX and PETN (pentaerythrite tetranitrate). Those that start out by heat are known as primary explosives while the ones starting out by detonator are termed as secondary explosives. High explosives can be mixed with oil to form clay. They become plastic explosives that could take into different shapes to explode directly. Terrorists used this weapon during 1970s and 1980s. It can also be pressed into shape of thin layer to be but into an envelope. (Davis, n.d.)

            Primary explosives are initiators detonate through heat, electricity and shocks. They explode from small explosive materials to large explosions. (Davis, n.d.)

            Deflagrate or low explosives don’t create much pressure but burn very quickly. It takes hardly thousandths of a second to burn all the way through from one end to the other. Low explosives include gun powder or black powder. Although they are low, they produce a solid reaction creating smoke in the air. They are also called propellant explosives. They have enough oxygen for their combustion that burns and not explode. Such explosives differ with the speed of which their energy is delivered. It depends on how powerful powder has been used. Fireworks are also considered as propellant explosives. (Davis, n.d.)

            Blasting agents are used at construction sites, mining places etc. they are safe and less costly. A blasting agent called ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil) can cause serious destruction if thousands of pounds are used of it. Some fertilizers contain ANFO. Unfortunately it has been misused by the terrorists around the world because of its easy availability. (Davis, n.d.)

Brief history of explosives

The explosives started off in the 1650s dated back to the Chinese black powder being used for military reason was tailored for mining in England and Hungary. In 1847, a powerful explosive called Nitroglycerine was discovered by Italian chemist named Sobreo. Black powder was the only explosive available until Sobrero’s nitroglycerin, Bottger’s and Schonbein’s nitrocellulose was discovered. Black powder is made up of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. Because its capacity to generate heat and gas, it was popular for using as a propellant explosive in fireworks. Black powder also known as gun powder is low explosive as it decomposes at a slow rate.
Afterwards, the genius Alfred Nobel gave birth to dynamite by adding 25% Kieselguhr in the Nitroglycerine to ensure safer management. It was the era of dynamites around the world. (Akhavan, 2004)

Over the period of 100 years, there were modifications in the mixture of nitroglycerine with other substance like wood, Nitro Cellulose, Ammonium Nitrate (adding salt oxidants) and flammable products like TNT and BNT.

TNT was made by Wilbrand from Germany. Its manufacturing started in the year 1891. In 1902 it became a substitute of picric acid and was used as a standard explosive in the Great War. It can transfer from solid to gas quite rapidly. It holds carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in it self. TNT does not explode impulsively. It has to be detonated by another pressure force to initiate the explosion.

Nitroglycerine has been used for the manufacturing of dynamites and other explosives since 1850s. It has been used for military, construction and demolition purposes. In the cold weather, nitroglycerine used to be replaced by nitro glycol. Moreover, it serves as a vasodilator for curing heard diseases. A main component of AFNO Ammonium Nitrate has been used as an oxidizing agent for explosives.  Ammonium Nitrate was one of the major developments of the all which had greater capability to detonate which became popular after disasters like the one in Texas City in 1947. (Akhavan, 2004)

In the 1960’s came the ANFO and water Gels. ANFO captured a significant fraction of explosive dynamite market. AFNO explosive also serves the purpose of peacetime uses. It can result into devastating explosions but still considered slower to detonate than TNT. TNT has high velocity and is more expensive than the AFNO but AFNO is ¼ times powerful than TNT. Because of they were not regulated as the TNT and dynamites, they were taken by the terrorists to be used in making bombs. Some of the bombings took place in New York in the year 1993 and 1995 in Oklahoma City using these explosives. (Akhavan, 2004)

Other explosives developed were known as slurries or water gels. They were made of Ammonium Nitrate solutions and sensitized gels by using TNT or black powder. There usage was limited to the construction and boreholes.

Then there was the development of nuclear explosives. A nuclear device reacts from the ignition of fission and fusion. They are so destructive that can blast the whole city. They are known to be weapons of mass destruction. Their usage has become a debut of international relations policy. There are two types of nuclear weapons:

Atomic bombs- they produce their energy from nuclear fission.

Hydrogen bombs- they produce their energy through nuclear fusion.

The atomic age started in the WWII when the US bombed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world knows the results of these bombing and the death tolls that justifies abandoning of these explosives.


Safety and Health- safety is big issue against using these explosives. The blast from a nuclear explosion could destroy the whole city. Moreover, the radiation in the air remains for a longer period of time even after the heat waves have finished causing long term sickness for the survivors. Thus even in the warfare, this explosive should be restricted.

The four main effects of the blast on a human body are:

Overpressure/shock- this causes an increased pressure damaging internal organs of the human body that may lead to permanent injury or death.

Fragmentation- this includes the debris, and harming the vegetation around the place of blast. It is usually done for mining.

Impact and Heat- the impact of overpressure waves on a human body induces aggressive levels of blast acceleration. This results in injuries that may also become unbearable. Declaration injuries may also take place by being impacted directly against the surface. Explosive fireball may also act as combustible driving force into the body.

Storage-Explosives tend to be expensive to acquire and maintain. There are obstacles as explosives fall into unofficial           hands causing problems.

Environmental considerations           : there are some explosive substances like hydrogen that may cause less oxygenic environment (inhalation risk). Individuals may come across sickness, headache, unconsciousness, and depression and so on. Even death may occur under certain circumstances in the case of hydrogen overexposure. Other explosives that we consider as peacetime like fireworks may cause problems for animals with their loud noise. The toxins used in these substances can cause inhaling problems, ingestion and skin disease. Although they do not pose as such negative effects but improper handling may cause poisoning or bone marrow.

When explosives are used for mining coal, it may destroy vegetation, soil, wildlife, and air quality.

Misuse- explosives that are not fully regulated get misused as they have had over the past years in terrorist activities. Criminal and illegal use of them has become a threat everywhere around the globe now. Explosives are the means through which terrorists win their aims and targets.


From the research above, it justifies the fact that explosives should only be used for engineering, construction, space shuttles and research purposes keeping the health and safety of all the living things around them.

It is true that over the years there have been geniuses who have developed so much to make life easier but unfortunately its mishandling can cause serious hazards for the people, their property and the environment it self. Precautionary measures should be taken while using these explosives should be kept in mind.

We should also learn from the history of using nuclear explosives and how disastrous the outcome was and that it would always produce the same result if ever used again. Although there have been treaties over not using these weapons, there still exists wars due to those in possession with.

Lastly, the problem of terrorism is quite linked with explosive materials being used by them. There shouldn’t be any accessibility to the public of such disastrous monsters that could eat away people’s lives. Terrorism is a global threat which has not been encountered or overcome and may take years to end it.

Other uses of explosives

It would be quite interesting to know that explosives are also used for the following:

Aerospace- boosting rockets
Agriculture- used by farmers to demolish boulders or tree stubs
Art- for craving the mountains
Blasting of coal
Demolition- building, towers, bridges etc
Manufacturing of diamonds- grinding and polishing of jewelry
Excavation- clearing underwater channels
Destroying hazardous waste
Security systems
Medical uses
Metal hardening- this includes railways or railroads
Driving pile- dynamites help explode piles
Shooting in sports

Explosives that contain toxic substances like sulfur or nitrates must be properly disposed to avoid pollution of the air, land and water.
Explosives that are used at the constructions sites must be used and handled carefully to avoid any injuries or mishaps.
Explosives that are dangerous to the environment should be kept to minimum use.
Terrorists should be prevented from acquiring any sort of chemical explosives.
There should be license for using such explosives as it cannot be determined whether the person may perform a terrorist act with it.
Cleaner explosives should be built that generate less radio active waves.
Strict rules and regulations should be made regarding the usage of each type of explosives ranging from high to low.
Injuries at the construction sites can be prevented if the workers wear proper protection suits to survive any blasts or unpleasant event.

Explosives are tend to be used for various purposes and yet justifiable purposes by the businesses. However, explosives that are hazardous to the environment and the people should not be used. Regardless of the benefits explosives gives its misuse can cause serious damage to the world. Thus they should be carefully regulated and monitored. This probably may help encounter the biggest threat of terrorism.

Besides the above reason it should not be forgotten that many explosives being used may affect the health of the people. Thus safety of the public should be the main focus. Similarly animal life should also be protected by not using explosives that may disrupt wildlife. In the end we must aim for cleaner environment that is free from contaminated soil, water or land.


Akhavan, J (2004) The Chemistry of Explosives, Royal Society of Chemistry

Davis , T (n.d.) The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives, Angriff Press


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The development and use of explosive over the past century. (2017, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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