|William G. Beckers Biography
by Robert J. Baptista, Updated May 21, 2009
Dr. William G. Beckers ca. 1935
William Gerard Beckers was born in 1874 in Kempen, Germany, a son of Gerard and Maria Magdalena Frantzen Beckers. His father was a noted chemist.
Beckers attended a technical institute at Aix la Chapelle, Germany, Heidelberg University and the University of Frieburg, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1897. He
married Marie Antoinette Pothen and they had two children.
After serving as a first lieutenant in the German Army, Dr. Beckers became Associate Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Dye School in Krefeld, Germany.
He joined the Bayer Company, manufacturer of dyestuffs and chemicals, in Elberfeld in 1900. In 1902 he was named head of the technical departments of
the company’s American branch. He became an American citizen in 1911.
Dr. Beckers founded Beckers Aniline and Chemical Works in 1912 in Brooklyn, New York. That year he hired Sidney R. David, who had worked with him at
Bayer, as sales manager of the firms’ New England branch office. Dr. Beckers and Mr. David both survived a devastating explosion at the plant in
November 1914 that killed two chemists and injured 25 other employees. A new plant with expanded capacity for dyestuffs was then built at a site in the
Canarsie section of Brooklyn.
Dr. Beckers advocated tariff protection against imported dyes in order to establish domestic manufacture. Representative Ebenezer J. Hill of Connecticut
introduced HB 702 to aid the industry. In February 1916 Dr. Beckers testified at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing and was questioned by Rep.
Hill. The following colloquy took place, as reported by "The Constitution" (Atlanta, GA), February 24, 1916:
Dr. Beckers: I know positively, from information which I have received from one of the largest chemical concerns in Germany, that the German government,
under all circumstances, will assist the German manufacturers by any means at their disposal in preventing a dyestuff industry growing up in any country outside
Mr. Hill: While you were a director in one of the German concerns, was it generally understood that a syndicate or cartel-I do not care how or what it was-
practically controlled the output of the various chemical plants?
Dr. Beckers: Yes, sir; that is true.
Mr. Hill: And arranged for competitive prices, etc.?
Dr. Beckers: Yes, sir.
Mr. Hill: How is that done? How is it effected?
Dr. Beckers: There are two large combinations in Germany which include every dyestuff manufacturing establishment of that country, and these two large
combinations have agreements to the effect that all profits are divided up between them.
Mr. Hill: And if they should desire to remove the competition afforded by the dyestuffs that you are manufacturing here in Brooklyn, regardless of cost, they
would simply cut their prices to the point where you could not meet them, and the expenses involved would be distributed among the companies forming the
Dr. Beckers: They would. They would lower the prices so that we could not manufacture any more in this country, and they could do so because whatever they
lose here they can make up by charging it to their Russian, Chinese, or other trade.
In 1917 the company was merged with several others to form the National Aniline and Chemical Company, Inc. Dr. Beckers was named vice president and
director. When this company was consolidated with others to form the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation, Dr. Beckers remained on the Board of
Directors until his death.
Although he retired in 1919, he was active in chemical research and held many patents on synthetic detergents. He was a trustee of the Brooklyn
Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Beckers served as a director of the Murray Hill Trust Company, Bolton National Bank, Aviation Corporation, Canadian Colonial
Airways, and the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation.
Dr. Beckers was active in professional circles, including the American Chemical Society, Society of Chemical Industries, the Chemists and Lawyers Clubs,
and Sigma Xi, the national honorary scientific society. He was a member of the Aviation Country Club on Long Island, the Montauk Club and the Riding and
Driving Club of Brooklyn.
For more than 30 years, he spent summers at Bolton, Lake George, New York. Bolton at one time was called Beckersville for him and he was a former
owner of the prestigious Sagamore Club Hotel on Green Island, Lake George. The Sagamore, originally built in 1883, was fully reconstructed in 1930
through the efforts of Dr. Beckers and William H. Bixby, a St. Louis industrialist. Together they financed the cost in spite of the bleak economic climate of
In 1916-1918 Dr. Beckers built a 40 room, two-story stucco mansion on the shore of Lake George for an estimated cost of $1.0 million. He named the home
"Villa Marie Antoinette" after his first wife Marie Antoinette Pothens Beckers. The Spanish style mansion was modelled after Dr. Becker's villa in Spain and
included an Estey pipe organ purchased in 1919.
Marie Antoinette Beckers died in 1924. In 1932 Dr. Beckers married Mrs. Emma Louise Roehlig, widow of George Roehlig, president of the Botany Worsted
Mills. He was a passenger on the maiden voyage of the airship Hindenburg to the United States in 1936.
Dr. Beckers sold the palatial estate around 1945 to Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw. Thaw had gained notoriety for killing architect Stanford White on
the rooftop of the Madison Square Garden in 1906.
In November 1948, Dr. Beckers died of a heart attack at his home, 120 East 79th Street, New York City. Survivors included his wife and his son and
daughter from his first marriage, William Kurt Beckers of New York and Mrs. Elsa B. Schreiber of Newtown, Pennsylvania. Also surviving were a brother,
Ludwig Beckers of Kempen, Germany and four grandchildren.
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Hartmut W. Hensel for contributing the following additional information about Beckers. "Dr. Beckers was born as Wilhelm
Gerhard Beckers and changed his name to William Gerard after he emigrated to the USA. The "technical institute at Aix la Chapelle" is now part of the
"Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule" (RWTH) in Aaachen. Aix-la-Chapelle is the french Name of Aachen.
The "University of Frieburg" is correctly named "Albert-Ludwigs-Universität" (or in English: Albert Ludwigs University), for short "Uni Freiburg", in Freiburg
(founded Sept. 21, 1457), one of the oldest universities in Germany. A few of the relevant persons to this university: Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Edmund
Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Herbert Marcuse, Emmanuel Levinas, Walter Benjamin (just to name a few)."
1) John Corrigan, Jr., "Crisis in Dyestuffs Industry Must Be Averted By Congress-And Only Congress Can Do It", The Constitution (Atlanta, GA), February 24,
2) “Obituary-William G. Beckers”, American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 37, November 29, 1948
3) “Dr. Becker Dies; Dyestuff Chemist”, The New York Times, November 5, 1948
4) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. III, pp. 234-235 (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1945)
5) "The Sagamore" Website: www.thesagamore.com/resort/history.php
7) "$1,000,000 Mansion of Harry K. Thaw Goes for $100,000", The Berkshire Evening Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), September 11, 1948
8) "Airships: A Zeppelin History Site, http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/flight-schedule/maiden-voyage, accessed May 21, 2009
William G. Beckers Biography
|Sagamore Hotel, Green Island, Lake George ca. 1930. Click to Enlarge
|Villa Marie Antoinette Gatehouse, Lake George, NY, Today (Mansion Demolished in 1953)
Photo: Warren County Historical Society. Click to Enlarge
Copyright © 2005-2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.