Expansion of the American Dyestuff Industry

The Aniline Color, Dyestuff and Chemical Conditions
August 1st, 1914,
April 1st, 1917.
A series of Addresses and Articles
Compiled by:
I. F. Stone


Article appearing in N. Y. Journal of Commerce, Feb. 5, 1917.

*Chemical Expert of the United States Department of Commerce.
Pressure of Necessity Put American Practical Scientists on Their Mettle and Produced Astonishing Results.

T. H. NORTON, Ph.D., Sc.D.*

Among the economic results in this land, consequent upon the existence of the world conflict across the water, none has equalled in permanent importance and in dramatic interest the swift evolution of a distinctly American artificial dyestuff industry.

Prior to the war there was such an industry in name. In some six establishments less than 400 operatives manufactured so-called "American coal tar colors" to the extent of 3,300 short tons annually. As a matter of fact, the manufacture consisted in the "assembling" of coal tar intermediates, made almost entirely in Europe, chiefly in Germany. Nine-tenths of the work involved in producing a pound of these "American" dyes had been performed on the banks of the Rhine, or the Main, or the Spree. The bulk of the artificial colors regularly consumed by our textile, paper, ink, varnish, pigment and allied branches was imported directly from Europe. Of the 26,000 tons thus brought over 22,000 were of German origin.

To-day we are fast approaching the point at which nearly all of the staple synthetic dyes normally needed in the nation's industrial activities will be regularly produced in American factories from American coal tar and by American chemists and operatives. This has meant a marvellous joint effort on the part of all concerned capital, technical and executive staffs and skilled labor. The annals of our industrial evolution present no similar example of the swift creation of a new form of productive mechanism, the most complex probably on our planet.

In the first place, it has been necessary to vastly enlarge the output of our coal tar industry so as to furnish in abundance the few "crudes" from which an army of useful products are systematically derived. Benzol, toluol, naphthalene, phenol and their homologues are now produced on a scale adequate for the world's needs under normal conditions.

Next came the manufacture on a generous scale from these crudes of the various intermediates required to make not only dyestuffs but synthetic medicinals, high explosives, photographic chemicals, artificial perfumes, etc. The only intermediate manufactured here before the war was aniline. There was a modest annual output of 800 tons. To-day the yearly production is 25,000 tons. A host ot> other intermediates, none of which were regularly made in the United States three years ago, are now currently produced in American works. Before the close of 1917 there will be few, if any, coal tar intermediates not regularly made on our soil.

Finally we witness twoscore establishments systematically turning out finished artificial colors on a vast scale, constantly increasing in variety and total amount. The output is now at the annual rate of about 27,000 short tons. With the advent of 1918 it will probably exceed 30,000 tons.

The efforts of those engaged in building up this new industry have been chiefly concentrated, at the outset, upon the manufacture in great quantities of a few important staple dyes, enough to meet the more pressing needs for an adequate gamut of color in the case of each of the leading textile fibers, of paper, ink, leather, etc. At present over 100 such synthetic dyes are regularly made.

The total number of distinct dyes and modifications of dyes, as enumerated in the "Census of Dyestuffs," published at the close of 1916 by the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, is 5,675. Many of these are consumed in quantities ranging annually from 100 pounds to 5,000 pounds. The necessary arrangements for producing all of these minor tinctorial forms will be made in due time, but at present circumstances dictate the concentration of effort and equipment upon a few of the leading types.

We are thus fairly on the way to witness the creation on American soil at a very early date of a symmetrical, well rounded, comprehensive American synthetic color industry, emancipating us very soon from all dependence upon foreign sources of such dyes as we use in tolerably large amounts.

A very few colors of recent invention and of pronounced permanent value, notably in the anthracene, indanthrene and carbazole groups, will continue to enjoy patent protection for periods ranging from one to eight years. Prospectively we may look forward to 1925 as a date when, at the present rate of expansion, the American production of synthetic colors should cover the entire American demand.

Two typical cases may serve to illustrate the rapidity and the resolute determination with which American enterprise is tackling the big problem.

Artificial indigo is the most important synthetic coal tar derivative consumed in this land. The importation for the fiscal year 1913-1914 was 8,500,000 pounds, consisting chiefly of the 20 per cent paste. The great "Badische" works on the Rhine expended $5,000,000 in perfecting the manufacture of this dyestuff before a single pound was placed upon the market.

Late in 1915 a strong American chemical company began the construction of the requisite plant for the production of artificial indigo. Over $500,000 has been invested in this plant, which is now about to furnish two and one-quarter short tons daily of the 20 per cent paste, or about 750,000 pounds annually. It will cover about 9 per cent of the domestic consumption. When construction was begun in 1915 indigo was on the free list. Since September 8, 1916, there is a protective duty of 30 per cent.

Next to indigo comes sulphur black in point of importance. The annual consumption in the United States was 5,600,000 pounds during the fiscal year 1913-1914. The entire amount came from Europe. About twenty American companies have entered upon the manufacture of this color, and the point has now been nearly reached when the production is fully equal to the normal domestic consumption.

A general review of the situation is incomplete without some reference to the role played by natural organic colors. The pinch of a genuine "dyestuff famine" at the close of 1915 was largely alleviated by a vastly augmented output in American factories of the staple, old-fashioned colors, such as logwood, fustic, quercitron, cutch, hypernic, etc. This has led to a more generous and general recognition of the actual value of the natural dyes in any well-balanced scheme for tinctorial practice. In the future under normal conditions intelligent American dyers will use this category of colors far more freely and much more effectively than has been the case for a generation past.

In this connection we may well be proud of what has been done by the combined efforts of the Forest Service and of private enterprise in adding the beautiful yellow of the osage orange to the series of natural dyes of recognized commercial and tinctorial value.

Of possibly equal promise is the delicate "golden leaf" color, the manufacture of which has been perfected during the past few months a product of our Northern forests.

All in all, 1916 is a memorable year in the annals of American chemical technology; and the most brilliant page is that devoted to the achievements of the men creating our new, national, artificial color industry.

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