173 - Daniel QUERTAIN [1] [2]

Daniel Joseph QUERTAIN was maître de carrières in Oignies (Belgium) and was a resident of nearby Lobbes (near Charleroi). 

On 25 February 1876 QUERTAIN, through Camille GILLON, directeur des mines in Differdange, applied for a brevet d’importation for an explosive, the title of the invention being:

Fabrication d’une nouvelle poudre dite “Pudrolythe” à l’usage des mines et carrières 

An English publication of 1873 characterised the new blasting powder as follows: [3]

The advantages claimed for it [pudrolythe] were, that it was safe when surrounded by the atmosphere, and, unless tightly tamped, would not explode; that it was considerably cheaper and one-third more powerful than gunpowder, and that the system of manufacture was easy; that there was, comparatively, an absence of smoke on explosion; that water would not spoil it - for when dried on a hot plate, it was just as good as it was previous to being wetted; and that no deleterious gases were emitted by the explosion. He was confirmed, in these statements, by certificates from distinguished Belgian chemists and engineers, and in Belgium there was no hesitation on the part of railway managers to its transport as ordinary traffic. It had received the approval of Mr. Hayward of Carnarvon, where the dynamite explosion had taken place, who stated that he considered pudrolythe was the best explosive yet introduced. 

The composition of the powder mixture claimed by QUERTAIN is the following:

salpètre raffiné (62%), chlorate de potasse (5%), soufre (21%), sciure de bois (5%), charbon de bois (2%) noir animal (2%) 

The experts appointed by the Chambre de commerce, Edouard METZ, Georges WITTENAUER and  J.  NEUER,  issued a short report on 16 September 1876:

Nous trouvons inutile de soumettre aux épreuves la poudre dite « pudrolythe » de Quertain pour en obtenir une appréciation de l’effet dynamique et des qualités physiques et chimiques, afin d'accorder le brevet d'invention sollicité par Monsieur D. Quertain. 

La composition de cette poudre a été inventée et également nommée «pudrolythe» par Oller (Moniteur scientifique 1872, page 575), qui a demandé et obtenu un brevet d'invention en France. [3]

Quentain n'a fait que changer les proportions … 

The Chambre de commerce gave the following recommendation to the Government:

… la Chambre de commerce s'est prononcée contre la prise en considération de cette demande, attendue que, suivant l'avis ci-joint des experts, la composition de cette poudre a été inventée et également nommée “pudrolythe” par Oller, qui a demandé et obtenu un brevet en France. 

Le sieur Quertain n'a fait que changer les proportions suivant les données fournies par les experts.

The Government informed representative GILLON of the opinion of the Chambre de commerce on 2 October 1876 and no patent was granted.

Note on the invention of « pudrolythe »

The administrative file does not contain any information of the original patent on which the brevet d’importation was to be based. 

According to the experts of the Chambre de commerce the original inventor of «pudrolythe» was called OLLER; the latter had obtained a patent in France on 3 October 1871 for a: « poudre inexplosible dite pudrolythe, à l'usage des mineurs ».

It would appear, though, that a second inventor, by the name of Joseph Paul Ramond POCH [4], had invented another type of “pudrolythe” and had obtained a British patent for his particular powder formulation on 2 March 1872. (see No 201)

POCH explained in his English patent:

My new chemical compound which I call “pudrolythe”, when fired, does not explode suddenly like gunpowder, but it ignites and burns away … 

Pudrolythe” was used with success in 1872 in the mines in Wales. [5]

A comparison of the compositions described by the three inventors, claiming to have invented « pudrolythe », shows the following:

                                                 OLLER                   POCH                   QUERTAIN

  • saltpetre                                     66                           68                             62
  • sulphur                                       20                          12                              21
  • chlorate of soda                         2,5                                                            5
  • wood saw dust                             6                             5                               5
  • charcoal                                      3,5                           6                               2
  • animal charcoal                            2                                                             2
  • nitrate of soda                                                            3
  • nitrate of baryta                                                         3
  • spent tan                                                                     3


[1] FamilySearch database

[2] The Luxembourg civil records (see www.luxroots.lu) contain one single reference to a person named Quertain: in 1886, a young lady born in Lobbes, by the name of Blanche Sophie Josephine Quertain, gave birth to a boy in Luxembourg-city (11 place d’Armes); the name of the father of the child was not revealed …; the mother was living in Paliseul (Belgium)

[3] Alexandre OLLER, FR patent No 93,168

[4] Joseph POCH, GB patent No 656/1872

[5] The Institution of Civil Engineers, Session 1872-1873, page 22