dynamite, explosive made from nitroglycerin and an inert, porous filler such as wood pulp, sawdust, kieselguhr, or some other absorbent material. The proportions vary in different kinds of dynamite; often ammonium nitrate or sodium nitrate is added. The mass is usually pressed in cylindrical forms and wrapped in an appropriate material, e.g., paper or plastic. The charge is set off with a detonator. Dynamite was discovered by Alfred B. Nobel in 1866.
Dynamite is an explosive based on the explosive potential of nitroglycerin, initially using diatomaceous earth (kieselgur: US Spelling; kieselguhr: UK Spelling) or another absorbent substance such as sawdust as an adsorbent. It was invented by Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel in 1866 in Krümmel (Geesthacht, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany); and patented in 1867.

It is usually sold in the form of a stick 20 centimetres (roughly 8 inches) long and 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) in diameter, but other sizes also exist. Dynamite is considered a high explosive, which means it detonates rather than deflagrates.

Another form of dynamite consists of nitroglycerin dissolved in nitrocellulose and a small amount of ketone. This form of dynamite is similar to cordite. This form of dynamite is much safer than the simple mix of nitroglycerin and diatomaceous earth/kieselgur.


Dynamite is predominantly used in the mining, quarrying, and construction industries and has had historical use in warfare, but its unstable nature, especially if subjected to freezing, has rendered it obsolete for modern military use. Dynamite has been replaced for combat purposes by military dynamite, a mixture of TNT, RDX, inert binders and anti-freeze agents. Military dynamite has approximately 60% of the strength of nitroglycerin-based, commercial dynamite. While not technically dynamite, it is called this as a slang term.


Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel and was the first safely manageable explosive stronger than black powder. Nobel obtained patents for his invention: in England on 7 May 1867; and in Sweden on 19 October 1867. He originally sold dynamite as "Nobel's Blasting Powder". After its introduction, dynamite rapidly gained popularity as a safe alternative to gunpowder and nitroglycerin. Nobel tightly controlled the patent, and unlicensed duplicators were quickly shut down. However, a few United States businessmen got around the patent by using a slightly different formula.


Dynamite consists of three parts nitroglycerin, one part diatomaceous earth and a small admixture of sodium carbonate. This mixture is formed into short sticks and wrapped in paper. Nitroglycerin by itself is a very strong explosive, and in its pure form it is shock-sensitive (physical shock can cause it to explode), degrading over time to even more unstable forms. This makes it highly dangerous to transport or use in its pure form. Adsorbed onto diatomaceous earth, nitroglycerin is less shock-sensitive.

Over time, the dynamite will "weep" or "sweat" its nitroglycerin, which can then pool in the bottom of the box or storage area. Crystals will form on the outside of the sticks. This creates a very dangerous situation. While the actual possibility of explosion without a blasting cap is minimal, old dynamite is still dangerous.

South Africa

For several decades from the 1940s, the biggest producer of dynamite in the world was the Republic of South Africa, where De Beers established a factory in 1902 at Somerset West. The explosives factory was later operated by AECI (African Explosives and Chemical Industries). The demand for the product came mainly from the country's vast gold mines, centered on the Witwatersrand. The factory at Somerset West was in operation in 1903 and by 1907 was already producing 340,000 cases (22 kilograms (50 lb) each) annually. In addition, a rival factory at Modderfontein was producing another 200,000 cases per year.

One of the drawbacks of dynamite was that it was dangerous to manufacture. There were two massive explosions at the Somerset West plant in the 1960s. Some workers died, but loss of life was limited by the modular design of the factory and earth works and plantations of trees that directed the blasts upwards. Pressure from trade unions forced AECI, after 1985, to phase out production of dynamite. The factory then went on to solely supply ammonium nitrate emulsion based explosives that are far safer to manufacture.


In the United States, in 1885, chemist Russell S. Penniman invented ammonium dynamite, a form which utilized ammonium nitrate in addition to the more costly nitroglycerin. These dynamites were marketed with the trade name, "Extra." Ammonium nitrate has 85% of the energy of "straight" nitroglycerin. Dynamite was manufactured by the E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc. until the mid-1970s. Other US dynamite makers of the era included Hercules, Atlas, Trojan-US Powder, Austin, and several other smaller firms. Dynamite was eventually phased out in favor of water gel explosives, which is cheaper to manufacture and in many ways safer to handle.

Difference from TNT

It is a common misconception that TNT and dynamite are the same thing. Though both are high explosives, there is no other similarity between them. While dynamite is an absorbent mixture soaked in nitroglycerin, then compacted into a cylindrical shape and wrapped in paper, TNT is a specific chemical compound called 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene.

A stick of dynamite contains roughly 2.1 million joules of energy. Energy density (joules/kilogram) of dynamite is approximately 7.5 megajoules/kilogram, compared to 4.6 megajoules/kilogram of TNT.

Popular culture

  • The familiar thin reddish cylinder, equipped with a fuse or blasting cap, is a stock movie prop. In comedies and cartoons, dynamite commonly explodes with the only effect being a blackened face and wild hair. In dramas, the impending explosion of lit dynamite parcels provides movie tension. In action films, dynamite is often used as a weapon.
  • The explosiveness of dynamite has caused expressions such as saying that "such and such" an issue "is dynamite" or "political dynamite".
  • The rock band AC/DC has a song about TNT and dynamite.
  • DC Comics features a World War II era superhero duo known as "TNT and Dan the Dyna-mite".

See also


  • , Improved explosive compound
  • , Explosive priming device




  • Cartwright, A. P. (1964). The Dynamite Company: The Story of African Explosives and Chemical Industries Limited. Cape Town: Purnell & Sons (S.A.) (Pty) Ltd.
  • Schück, H. and Sohlman, R.(1929). The Life of Alfred Nobel. London: William Heinemann Ltd.

External links

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