In 1907 construction began on the East Jordan Chemical Plant, and by 1909, the Plant was up and running. The plan consisted of a six-story distillery, warehouses, three locomotives, a blast furnace, and several retort ovens used to char hardwood. Later, an iron works addition was created. According to the International Encyclopedia of 1913, East Jordan Chemical Plant and Iron Furnace was the largest and most modern plant of its kind in the world.
Most of the workers came north from Tennessee and Kentucky. The plant employed 400 men at its peak. Laborers made 17 cents an hour. Through the years, the plants’ owners were made into millionaires.
During the process of producing charcoal in the retort ovens, volatile vapors were contained and made into wood alcohol and brown granular acetate of lime in the distillery. This process set the East Jordan Chemical Plant apart from competing plants in other towns: the other plants in neighboring towns were not have the capacity to create wood alcohol or acetate, so they were shut down when trees became scarce, as there was nothing left to convert into charcoal.
East Jordan had other struggles as well though: working conditions were not great, and although many men just put up with it, there were strikes. Men worked 12 hour days – 84 hours a week. Two casting pours took place each day, causing sparks to fly and a dangerous atmosphere for the workers. At least one man was killed by being run over by an ore buggy. All of the ovens were destroyed twice by fires. Eventually strikes led to the halt in production in 1925, and the plant was closed in 1927. At the time the plant closed, times were difficult, and a lot of materials from the plant were sold as salvage. The Chemical Plant was one of the many industries in East Jordan that had a big impact on the town and the growth of East Jordan.