Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/362

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348
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

We get potassa free from soda in the ash of a tree which grew in a soil having more soda than potassa. From sea-water, containing near 200 parts of soda to one of potassa, the sea-weeds furnish an ash having two to twenty times more potassa than soda. From the blood of man, having ten to fifteen times more soda than potassa, the muscles obtain a composition of six or seven times more potassa than soda.

This gleaning is good proof of the value of more, and the evidence is confirmed by the application of potassa as a fertilizer. The stock of potassa—which is used somewhat in the arts—is derived mainly from the gatherings of the organic world. The ash-wagon takes up the savings of the hearth. In France the washings of sheep's-wool are saved, and 160 pounds of good potassium carbonate are obtained from a ton of the wool. In the pioneer life of this country, the housewives have burned corn-cobs and taken the ash for baking-powder, eighty per cent, potassium carbonate, and preferable to the "dietetic saleratus" now used. Should the ash of the entire corn-crops of the United States be taken without loss, it is estimated that over 100,000,000 pounds of potassium carbonate would be obtained. In the salt-beds of Stassfurt, Germany, there is a good proportion of potassa, and the use of this supply has been steadily increasing, both as material in manufactures and as a fertilizer.

At the present time, the market value of the resources of life engages little general attention. There is a narrow branch of commerce, wherein the prices-current of the three elemental materials which we have taken as "adequate resources" are the values constantly under calculation in daily business. In this guild, one sells nitrogen at thirty cents, another offers phosphoric acid at five cents; and all parties have a tacit understanding that the values of nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potassa, are to each other about as six, one and a half, and one, and that these are the only values to be considered. The technical terms of any profession or pursuit are jargon to the general ear. But hearing a man say that he "sold a hundred tons of rectified Peruvian at thirty-one cents for nitrogen, this morning," it is not so much as understood in what sort of business such jargon belongs.

Thinking of the multiplication of life and the waste of its resources, it seems that, in the time coming, the phrases that tell the rise and fall of value in commercial fertilizers may find some general recognition—may even have as much meaning for everybody as the terms of the gold-market and the silver-stocks.

It is only about a hundred years since man began to attain such definite knowledge of the components of matter as enables him to trace (we by no means say to understand) the transmutations of earth and air into tissues fit for life. Thirty-six years ago, Liebig commenced giving the people the first really systematic lessons upon the