The chemical industry comprises the companies that produce industrial chemicals. Central to the modern world economy, it converts raw materials (oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals) into more than 70,000 different products.
The plastics industry contains some overlap, as most chemical companies produce plastic as well as other chemicals.
Although chemicals were made and used throughout history, the birth of the heavy chemical industry (production of chemicals in large quantities for a variety of uses) coincided with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in general.
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One of the first chemicals to be produced in large amounts through industrial process was sulfuric acid. In 1736, the pharmacist Joshua Ward developed a process for its production that involved heating saltpeter and allowing the sulfur to oxidize and combine with water. It was the first practical production of sulfuric acid on a large scale. John Roebuck and Samuel Garbett were the first to establish a large-scale factory in Prestonpans in 1749, which used leaden condensing chambers for the manufacture of sulfuric acid.