The Development of the Aniline Color Manufacturing Industry in America

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 in Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter, Special Annual Review Edition, February 9th, 1917.

I. F. Stone

In writing on this subject it may be interesting to briefly sketch in the beginning, a history of this industry from its first inception in this country, and I beg to say in this connection that the first American aniline factories were established about 1875. By about 1880 there were some ten factories engaged in the manufacture of these products, and it looked as though it would be a very successful industry, as tariff conditions at that time were favorable to such enterprise.

Unfortunately, however, in 1883 a new tariff law was passed, reducing the tariff protection on colors to such an extent that the industry was no longer possible, and consequently most of the factories dropped out until at one time there were only three engaged in this manufacture, and these three were carried on more or less by the ambition of their owners that some day conditions would be changed, rather than at a profit. One of these factories, particularly, lost a large amount of money up to the time it finally reached success in about 1900.

About 1898 another factory was established, and then along about 1914 still another was established, so that in 1914, at the beginning of the present European war, there were five factories actively engaged in this industry. Owing, however, to the intense competition of the European manufacturers, especially the Germans, none of these factories were successful enough to make a complete line of colors, and were restricted to only a few of those which could be made to advantage in this country, therefore the industry was not a large one and was not running to any considerable extent. One reason why the industry could not operate successfully was the lack of what we call intermediate products, that is, products made from benzole and naphthaline (coal tar derivatives) which are the bases of the manufacturing of practically all aniline colors, as none of these intermediate products were manufactured in this country up to 1914, when the war commenced, with one exception which I will mention later. The American manufacturers were therefore obliged to rely entirely upon European factories for their raw materials; in other words, the intermediate products, and naturally, the European manufacturers charged them such a price that they could not successfully compete with the finished colors of Europe, which were made from the same intermediate products, but which were secured by the European manufacturers naturally at a lower price than they could be secured by the American manufacturers who imported them.

The single exception to this statement is that in 1910 a factory for the manufacture of one of the intermediates, viz., aniline oil, was established, but had not been at all successful up to the time of the war, owing to European competition, the European manufacturers, by the way, having reduced their price immediately upon the establishment of this American factory.

The situation was then, in 1914, when the war began, that no intermediate raw materials were manufactured here with the exception of this comparatively small amount of aniline oil, and then the supplies of these intermediate products from European factories, that is, German factories, were immediately cut off, just as were the supplies of the finished aniline colors, and the American manufacturers therefore were not able to relieve the situation except to the extent of using up what raw materials they had on hand, which of course were not nearly enough to be of any perceptible help to the consumers of aniline dyes. The situation therefore a few months after the war started, say about January 1st, 1915, had become very acute, as practically all the stocks of imported colors which were here at the beginning of the war had been consumed, as had also the raw materials employed by the American factories in their manufacture of colors, the one exception being a factory which had previously been securing its aniline oil from the American manufacturer, and therefore they were enabled to continue this manufacture of colors without any particular interruption, except the interruption of the lack of foreign intermediates, of which, however, they fortunately had a large stock.

I am not mentioning the names of any of these factories in this article, as I wish to be absolutely impersonal, but there is no question but that the position of this factory just mentioned, with its supply of raw materials, was a great relief to the consumers of dyes in this country, and it was very fortunate for them that a factory had been established for the manufacture of aniline oil and that as American manufacturers of colors they had taken the precaution to secure their supply from this American factory, even though they were obliged to pay a higher price than they could have imported the oil for at the time. They preferred, however, to do this in order to encourage the American manufacturers of these intermediate products.

Very soon after the war, however, it became apparent that there would be a great necessity for the manufacture of these intermediate products in this country, and as the basic material, that is, coal tar, is of course a large domestic product, it was then only necessary to recover its derivatives, such as benzole and naphthaline, and benzole particularly being needed for explosives and other war purposes, was the first product which had the attention of the American producers. The production was increased gradually until it has reached at the present time something like thirty million gallons annually and against about three million gallons prior to the war, and the production of naphthaline has also increased largely owing to its demand for use as a raw material in the manufacture of these intermediates, although not so much an extent as benzole.

The manufacture of intermediates gradually increased to such an extent that there are now being manufactured a large variety, such as alpha naphtylamine, beta naphthol, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, chlor-benzole, dimethylamine, di-nitro-benzole, di-nitro-phenol, nitro benzole, paranitraniline, paraphenylenediamine, toluidine, and others too numerous to mention, so that American manufacturers of colors are now able to get a fair supply of these intermediates, and are therefore enabled to make a more complete line of colors than was possible at the beginning of the war, viz., 1914.

As I have previously mentioned, the first large intermediate to be manufactured, however, was aniline oil, the factory which originally manufactured it before the war, immediately increasing its production, and many other concerns starting in later on, until it came to a point where the production was fully, if not more, than equal to the demand, and the fact is, that factories making this product are in such a strong position that it is doubtful whether it will ever again be imported from Europe to advantage.

Another intermediately, the manufacture of which was commenced largely, was chlor-benzole, which is used in the manufacture of sulphur black, a very important color for cotton goods, and for which there is a large sale. The manufacture of this color, by the way, is now so large that it is fully equal to the consumption, and is again another product which will probably never be imported again to advantage. Other intermediates followed, until as I have said, at present we are able to obtain a sufficient variety to manufacture a line of colors which will probably take care of the necessary shades, which includes blacks, blues, browns, reds, yellows, greens, orange, violet; the seven primary colors, from mixtures of which practically every shade can be obtained for all materials such as woll, cotton and silk.

It has been stated that American manufacturers were not on a firm basis, in that they had followed the lines of least resistance in making colors, that is, making colors which were easiest to manufacture, and that when the war was over and competition came again from Europe they would not be able to stand against the competition. This opinion is not true, in that while it is true that they did follow the lines of least resistance, it so happened that the colors manufactured were the ones most largely consumed, for instance blacks. This is by far the color most largely consumed, being practically half of the entire color consumption of the country, and this was the first color to receive attention of the American manufacturers, it being obvious that a color which could be manufactured in large quantities would mean a less cost for overhead expenses. Therefore there is now an abundance of blacks made for all purposes, sufficient to take care of the whole consumption of the country, for instance: direct blacks for cotton, union, wool and silk, azo black or acid black for wool and silk, sulphur black for cotton (already mentioned), chrome blacks for wool, and nigrosine for leather, inks, etc., so that this particular color is well taken care of. Consumers can get the necessary quantities for consumption next year if they were careful to contract for same in time to allow the American manufacturers to arrange their facilities and buy the raw material necessary to take care of such contracts for 1917.

The next color in importance, which had their attention, was blue, this being next to black in the proportion of consumption. They are now producing blues for the same textiles, viz., wool, cotton and silk, to a very satisfactory extent.

To show the development of this business, would say when we consider that there were only five factories making aniline dyes in the country prior to the fall of 1914 when the war began, I will say that we now have a list of about one hundred and twenty making intermediates and anilines, and as I have stated above, their whole production will take care of the entire country as far as the necessary colors are concerned.

Special colors which are not made here are being imported from Switzerland and occasionally on the submarine "Deutschland," so that consumers are able to get quite a varied line, and there is therefore no real shortage of these products.

Practically the only colors which are not now made in this country of any consequence, are indigo and anthracene derivatives, known as vat colors, for the dyeing of ginghams, shirtings, etc. (although at this time there is one factory being erected for the manufacture of indigo), but it is possible to secure natural products like indigo, logwood, fustic, cutch, flavine, etc., which can be substituted until the artificial colors are either manufactured or again imported. And then alizarine colors, for which there is as far as I know no plan to manufacture, are easily replaced by the so-called chrome colors, which are practically as fast and available for men's wear, sweaters, heavy woolen, etc., in black, blue, brown, green, yellow and red therefore the shortage of these alizarines is really not so serious, and then, there are some colors for lakes called the para colors which are not made here, but the lake manufacturers can easily get what they want by making their own lakes from paranitraniline and beta naphthol, which are made here. A few other colors not made here are such specialties as rhodamine, auramine, patent blue, etc., but some are being brought over from Switzerland and England, and from Germany on the "Deutschland," in fair quantities, so that they are obtainable, and can be used in connection with American colors for blending shades and making mixtures.

In speaking of the increase to some one hundred twenty factories, I must emphasize the fact that the first five already established before the war are the ones who have made the most progress, and are the ones turning out the most staple and satisfactory colors as to quality, etc., and they are the ones who will continue to hold the most of the business after the war, as due to their experience, capital, etc., they are in a better position to do so than the newer manufacturers who have largely depended on inexperienced chemists and on outside capital to take up the manufacture. This is emphasized by the fact that none of the older factories are advertising their stock for sale in the newspapers, nor are they soliciting subscriptions for bonds or in any other way asking for capital, as all of them seem to be in position to capitalize themselves. This being true, they certainly are in a strong position to meet competition after the war, with the advantage they have gained in the meantime through their development and increased production, which will reduce overhead expenses of their factories, as it is obvious that it will not cost as much per pound to manufacture say one million pounds as it would to manufacture one hundred thousand pounds, the increase in the manufacture of colors being at least ten times more than it was before the war.

The principal point to continue the successful manufacture is the question of the manufacture of the intermediates, on which they depend as their raw materials, and it is the intermediate manufacturers who will need the most help to maintain their position. If they cannot do so through protection granted them by Congress in the last tariff bill, then they should be supported in some other way, by the Government for instance, as I have stated in an address made last year, the Government could establish factories for the manufacture of these intermediates, which would be very desirable because these same factories could be used for the manufacture of ammunition supplies, in case of war, as it is a fact that the raw materials for the manufacture of aniline products are much the same as those used for explosives, so that in making such a move the Government would be protecting itself in case of war, for its supply of explosives, as well as strengthening the position of the aniline color manufacturers by giving them intermediates at necessary prices. This could be easily done by the Government as it is a fact, as I have stated, that the production of the original raw material, coal tar derivatives, viz., benzole and naphthaline, are now in sufficient supply for the production of all necessary intermediates.

There is some criticism as to the quality of the coal tar products made in the United States since the war, but to this I can say that they are identically the same in every respect as the European products, as they are made from the same chemical formulae, and there is no reason therefore why they should not be fully as good in every way if they are properly manufactured, which they are by the competent factories. The trouble is that people in comparing colors do not compare the same colors, but take some color which is especially adapted for certain purposes and compare it with colors which may be used for the purpose but are not so well adapted, due usually to the ignorance of the people who use colors, but they could get the necessary information as to what colors to use if they would confer with some more experienced manufacturers of colors who would know just for which purpose colors are adapted and what colors could be replaced, in comparison with the European colors.

In regard to the high prices charged by American manufacturers of colors, many consumers are under the impression that these are caused by scarcity, owing to the inability of European manufacturers to deliver their products here, but while this may be true to some extent, the real reason is that owing to the fact, as I have said, th'at the raw materials for the manufacture of aniline colors are much the same as those used for explosives, the war demands for explosives are so great that it creates a scarcity in the raw materials, and consequently prices are high, and color manufacturers are obliged to pay abnormal prices for their raw material, so that the prices for the manufactured colors are correspondingly high. Not only that, but the cost of labor in the past two years has advanced to such an extent that it is almost double what it was in the normal times. However, the price of American colors in any event, is not as high in proportion, as the European colors, as those colors which are imported are sold for many times more their normal value in this country than are the American colors; for instance, a color known as patent blue, on which the normal price is about $1.00, is being sold as high as $13 per pound for a type which is only half strength, so in reality the full strength type would be selling at $26, or about twenty-six times its normal price, while I know of no American color which is sold at more than about ten times its normal price, and most of the staples are sold at about only five times for instance, direct and sulphur black, which are consumed in the largest quantities. It is usually the smaller colors which are higher in proportion, due to the fact that the cost of manufacture is more for small quantities than it is for large quantities. In mentioning patent blue, it is only one of many colors, like rhodamine, auramine, the vat colors already mentioned, etc., which come over from time to time, and which are sold at very high prices, much more in proportion than the American colors. The point is that the prices in Europe are evidently quite as high or higher than they are in the United States, therefore, the United States consumer is under no disadvantage as compared to consumers in other parts of the world. As to when products will be back to their normal prices, would say this will come in due course, after the war, and when things get more normal, that is, when materials and labor once more resumes normal conditions, although as far as labor is concerned, it is very difficult to say whether this will again in this country go back to what is was before the war, our laboring people having been educated now to a higher schedule of living, and it is doubtful if conditions will change much in this respect, as it would be difficult to return to a different or former standard. I believe, however, that American consumers will be only too glad to pay labor everything it is worth and consequently a higher price for colors than ruled before the war will be cheerfully paid by our consumers, if they are within reason, which they will be.

To sum up what is now being manufactured, would say that practically a full line of basic, acid, chrome and sulphur colors are being made, and people in criticizing the development of the color manufacture should not forget that it would be impossible for us to do in two years since the war what it has taken Germany over fifty years to accomplish; in other words, make a complete line of colors for every purpose, but in making the staple colors such as we have been able to do and getting them to a point where we can supply the whole consumption of the country, I think we have accomplished wonders in the short period since the war, or a little over two years.

The definite answer in connection with the manufacture of dyestuffs in America is therefore, as I have already stated, that the present conditions of the dyestuff supply are very satisfactory, and the future outlook is still more satisfactory in that we will make more colors, and everything indicates that the larger part of the business will remain in the hands of American manufacturers even after the war, instead of the hands of the European manufacturers who in former years have had a practical monopoly of this business.

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