Strolling into Glen Canyon Park, it’s easy to miss the large plaque proclaiming the site to be “the first dynamite factory in America.” While historic, it also seems like an odd location to commemorate — even more so when you learn that nearly every one of them ended in an explosion with multiple casualties.
Dynamite was revolutionary when it was invented in 1867, as other explosives of the time were, not surprisingly, quite dangerous. Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel, whom you may also know for the very famous prize he later founded, was searching for a safer way to manufacture nitroglycerin, as his brother Emil had been killed in a nitroglycerin explosion in 1864. He eventually patented “dynamite” and, even though he had never visited California, he licensed the production of the explosive in August 1867 to Julius Bandmann of San Francisco because of a connection an associate had to the city.
While the product was meant to be safer, production was still dangerous, and Bandmann needed to build the factory on a remote spot far away from most San Francisco residents. He chose Glen Canyon Park (then known also as Rock Canyon, Rock Ranch or Rock Gulch). According to historic reports, the factory resided where the recreation center and playground now stand, next to what was once one of San Francisco’s largest waterways, Islais Creek.