The Aniline Industry from a Manufacturer's Viewpoint

The Aniline Color, Dyestuff and Chemical Conditions
August 1st, 1914,
April 1st, 1917.
A series of Addresses and Articles
Compiled by:
I. F. Stone
Address Before Meeting of Society of Chemical Industry
Chemists' Club, October 22nd, 1915


Of all industrially prominent countries the United States is, doubtless, the one which has been most successful in the manufacture of products of universal use. For articles of this class the large home market, cheap transportation, and great consuming capacity of the American people, permit the construction of manufacturing plants on an enormous scale, where machinery takes the place of hand labor, so that in spite of high wages, the actual labor cost of such articles is frequently less than that of the same articles when produced in countries with a more limited consumption. At the last revision of the tariff, the Steel Corporation stated that they had no objection to a lowering of the duty on their products; the automobile industry, which manufactures on a scale unheard of in any other country, even before the present war, was exporting its products to every corner of the globe; other articles in point are agricultural machinery, sewing machines, typewriters, leather, boots and shoes, and to mention a few chemical products, wood alcohol, acetate of lime, caustic soda, etc.

Unfortunately, the manufacture of synthetic dyestuffs does not lend itself to such mass production. The estimated annual consumption in the United States is about 40,000,000 pounds of an approximate sales value of $15,000,000. While this amount is quite large when considered by itself, it is small when compared with the products enumerated above, and from the manufacturer's viewpoint dwindles to small proportions indeed.

According to Schultz and Julius' Tables, 1914, there were on the market at that time not less than 930 synthetic dyestuffs, being chemical individuals, not mixtures, or 1,000 in round figures, as there are a number, the constitution of which the color factories refuse to divulge. Assuming that the American trade demands all of the 1,000 products now on the market, this would necessitate, so to speak, 1,000 individual miniature factories, each having a capacity of about 40,000 pounds. This, of course, would not actually be the case, for among all colors used there are a dozen or so which constitute about 75 per cent of this country's consumption, including such colors as sulphur black, direct black, acid black, chrome black, nigrosine, indigo, auramine, benzopurpurin, patent blue, paper blue, alizarin, fuchsine, and phosphine. Assuming this to be approximately correct, that would leave 10,000,000 pounds for the remaining 988 dyestuffs, or an average of about 10,000 pounds for every little factory. It is obvious that to produce so small a quantity, the manufacturer could not run his factory the whole year round, and he is compelled, therefore, to manufacture a number of different colors in the same installation in succession, each change necessitating extra labor in clearing and altering the apparatus. The monster European factories, having a very much larger production, do not suffer from this disadvantage to nearly the same extent.

Their larger output of individual colors is also an advantage in other respects. According to their latest report, the Farbwerke Hoechst had in their employ more than 300 chemists. Allowing one hundred of that number for their inorganic, analytical and research work, that would leave two hundred to look after the manufacture of about 500 colors, as the concern mentioned probably does not make more than 500 of the dyestuffs mentioned in Schultz's Tables. One chemist, therefore, has on the average no more than two or three colors in his direct charge, and this continuously during the whole year.

Every chemist who has had actual manufacturing experience will realize that only by being in daily contact with the product of his manufacture can he attain that efficiency which enables him to detect at once the slightest inaccuracy in his processes, and to turn out a product always uniform in quality and yield. On the other hand, when called upon to change from one product to another every few months, as is the rule in American color factories, slight details in the processes may have escaped his mind or other conditions may have changed, causing loss in yield and increasing generally the cost of production.

Corresponding to the variety of processes that are carried out in a dyestuff factory, a great variety as well as a great quantity of chemicals, inorganic as well as organic, are used. Almost all of these can be obtained in this country in normal times in sufficient quantities and at fair prices.

A very important part in our industry is played by the so-called intermediate products, most of which have been imported from Europe, principally Germany, and I must confess that at recent tariff revisions I have sought to have these placed on the free list. This has, doubtless, created the impression in some quarters that the manufacture of these products was particularly complicated and difficult. Nothing, however, is further from the truth. Many of our most important intermediates, such as nitrobenzene, aniline, α and ß-naphthylamine, ß-naphthol, metanilic acid, sulphanilic acid, naphthionic acid, benzidine, are made by simple processes. In fact, before the war, and while these intermediates were on the free list, we have found it cheaper to manufacture several of them in our own works rather than import them, duty free, from abroad. However, in other cases, some of these derivatives consume such large quantities of chemicals, mostly mineral acids, which in part cannot be obtained at all, or partly at a materially higher price than in Germany, and furthermore the yield is comparatively small, so that we had to import those materials.

Even the large German factories do not manufacture all of their own intermediates; some of them constitute only a very small part of a given dyestuff, and I am sure can only be made successfully by factories that specialize in them, and do not entirely depend on their own consumption.

In a recent issue of the Daily Trade Record, Dr. Norton states that an American company has for some time been manufacturing aniline oil on a large scale and supplying it to New England textile works for use in the production of aniline black. It is now engaged in putting up small aniline plants for the use of textile houses and dye houses where there is an extensive application of aniline black; these plants are put up at a cost of $1,000 and require the attention of a single skilled laborer for operation. It is found that, in practice, the aniline produced in these small plants, at the current rate of benzol, costs about 30 cents per pound.

We are seriously considering the advisability of following this example and putting on the market a small aniline color plant, which with a few skilled men will enable every textile mill to produce its own color.

Since the process of making dyestuffs is in no two cases exactly the same, a large variety of complicated machinery is required. Following is a partial list of apparatus which is installed in our works, and we manufacture only about 136 out of a possible 1,000 dyestuffs: Boilers, steam engines, steam pumps, vacuum pumps, rotary pumps, air compressors, ice machines, electric motors, filter presses, wash presses, suction filters, presses for recovery of volatile substances, plain stills, vacuum stills, pressure tanks, autoclaves, nitrating and sulphonating kettles, centrifuges, shelf driers, vacuum driers, kiln driers, incinerators, rotary driers, drum driers, evaporating pans, ball mills, disc mills, mixers of every description, vats of all sizes, tanks, and a lot of special apparatus which is designed for every individual case by our own engineers.

Another peculiar feature of the dyestuff industry is the fact that it is subject, to a great extent, to changes in style, more so if it depends only on the home market. It is thus confronted with the falling off of sales of certain shades, while others enjoy a particular boom, necessitating a constant shifting of manufacturing and a correspondingly great flexibility of apparatus.

From what has been said, it will be seen what an important position falls to the engineering force of a color factory. The Badische factory in Ludwigshafen alone is said to employ over two hundred engineers with college training.

We must not forget that Germany is by far in the lead, and there are a number of colors which German manufacturers have patented in this country, which consequently are beyond competition, but the inventions in this line, of the last few years, have had by no means the revolutionizing effect of the older inventions like the ponceaus, which replaced cochineal; of alizarin, which replaced madder; of indigo, which put the natural product out of business, or of acid and direct blacks, which compete successfully with logwood. In spite of these latest inventions, however, the consumption of the older colors seems to increase steadily. I also doubt if there is any great invention to be expected which would interfere materially with the older colors. This does not mean that research in the hope of discovering new products should be abandoned altogether. With due co-operation between universities and industry, as has been the case in Germany for many years and to which is due, to a large extent, the greatness of the German dyestuff industry, there are many promising problems yet to be solved, but just as much, or perhaps more, has been accomplished by working in the older field, in consequence of which our industry has been able to lower prices from year to year in contrast with almost all other industries, which in proportion to the rise in wages have had to raise their prices if they did not choose to lower the standard of their goods instead.

Viewed from a manufacturer's standpoint, the present condition of the aniline color industry in America is a most trying one, owing to the difficulty in securing adequate supplies of all kinds, even the ordinary heavy chemicals, such as sulphuric and nitric acids.

In conclusion, I may summarize the needs of the industry after we return to normal conditions: We shall require, first, a plentiful supply of all chemicals, including so-called heavy chemicals. All of these will, doubtless, be obtainable from American sources. Second, all basic raw materials derived from coal tar in practically chemically pure form. Some of them are obtainable now; in fact, the war has greatly stimulated the manufacture of a number of these products, unfortunately mostly for use in explosives. But, as the manufacturers are reaping enormous profits on these products during the war, they will be able to write off their plants and after the war should be in a position to furnish an ample supply of these chemicals for color purposes.

Thirdly, we need intermediates. Very few of these are made at the present time in this country for reasons I have outlined before. But even the many that are missing present no serious problem from the manufacturer's viewpoint, always keeping in mind the fact that a way must be found to offset the higher manufacturing costs. In frequent conferences with large chemical concerns intending to take up the manufacture of intermediates, we usually found no willingness to enter into their manufacture if we could not guarantee to take, say, over fifty tons or so annually of each product.

Fourthly, we need the co-operation of the American consumers, which, I regret to say, was extended to us in the past only to a very limited extent. I believe, however, the war has taught them a lesson which the present generation will hardly forget.

Fifthly, and most important of all, we need legislation which will help to create the industry by first creating conditions that will make it profitable, since every manufacturer is entitled to a reasonable return on his investment.

If these conditions are fulfilled, I venture to say that American mills will soon be using "American aniline colors," and any possible slight increase in cost will be more than offset by the assurance that they will be protected absolutely against any future recurrence of the present calamitous situation.

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