Dr. W. Beckers, "The Relation of the Manufacture of Explosives to the Manufacture of Dyestuffs". Address Before National Silk
Convention, November 23, 1916 at Paterson, New Jersey. Reproduction from I. F. Stone, The Aniline Color Dyestuff and Chemical
Conditions From August 1st, 1914 to April 1st, 1917, pp. 181-185 (Published by I.F. Stone, 1917)
It gives me great pleasure to address the Second National Silk Convention on “The Relation of the Manufacture of Explosives to the Manufacture of Dyestuffs,” and “The
Manufacture of Dyestuffs in America; the Progress Made, and What is to be Expected in the Future.
In dealing with the first subject, I would like to say that on account of the fact that the same basic raw materials are used for both the manufacture of explosives and dyestuffs (for
instance, benzol, toluol, phenol, nitric, sulphuric and muriatic acids, etc.), and as the machinery used in both industries is of very similar construction, the relationship is quite close.
That a dyestuff plant can be very soon turned over into an ammunition plant has been well demonstrated by the fact that soon after the outbreak of the European war all the
dyestuff plants in Europe were manufacturing explosives for their respective countries. The training of the chemists, foremen and laborers in a dyestuff plant is such that it will
enable them to turn from the manufacture of dyestuffs to that of explosives on only a very short notice. So any country that wants to be prepared, and has its national defense at
heart, should look out for the firm establishment of a dyestuff, or in general, an organic chemical industry within its borders, a wisdom which has proven so beneficial to the
German government, as during this terrible war, Germany, having a well established dyestuff industry of her own, did not have to rely on foreign countries for her supply of
explosives, as the Allies had to.
Turning from this less agreeable subject to the peaceful manufacture of aniline dyes, I would like to say that the progress made in this country since the outbreak of the war must
be called phenomenal. Small concerns with little plants have turned into large manufacturing establishments, producing millions of pounds of aniline colors. Not for advertising
purposes, but so as to illustrate the enormous growth of the American dyestuff industry, I have put before you pictures of the 1912, 1914 and 1916 plants of the concern which I
represent. In showing you these pictures I do not think I have to give you many statistical figures to demonstrate the growth of our concern. The same development has taken place
with other dyestuff manufacturing concerns; besides that, quite a few new concerns were started, which were not in the dyestuff manufacturing business when the war broke out.
Now let us investigate how such an enormous and rapid growth was possible. It was made possible through the protection which the war, through its embargoes, interruptions of
shipping, etc., had given our industry. Before the war, the idea was created broadcast, by those interested in keeping away from this country the establishment of a dyestuff
industry, that dyestuffs could not be made in this country because we had no experienced chemists to solve the problems turning up in the course of manufacture. But how is it
that suddenly the chemists were here to do the trick, when they were put up against the emergency? Only because the conditions created by the war were favorable enough to let
skill, energy and capital expect the proper reward.
Of course, gentlemen, we American chemists are not as experienced in the manufacture of dyes as our German colleagues, who have been making these products for the last half
century. The American chemists had the fundamental chemical knowledge, but did, naturally, not possess the manufacturing experience with its hundreds of thou-sands of
problems, or as Mr. Dow, of the Dow Chemical Company, Midland, Mich., a large and experienced manufacturer of pharmaceutical chemicals, said before the Ways and Means
Committee in Washington, during the dyestuff tariff hearing: “We do not know as yet the ‘tricks’ of the trade!” Indeed, gentlemen, there are many tricks to be learned before the
great number of products necessary to satisfy the demands of the dyestuff consuming trades in this country can be made satisfactorily and efficiently in these United States. Just
to illustrate this, I will put before you silk hanks, dyed with four of the most important colors used by the silk dyers, namely, methyl violet, methylene blue, fast red and azo yellow.
We have dyed these hanks once with the imported products, and once with the domestic products, as they are being manufactured now, while the other hanks show the
respective products when we started to manufacture them, and once after quite some experimenting had been done to improve the very dull shades first obtained. You see how
we, step by step, improved upon these shades, until we finally succeeded in bringing them up to the standard shades of the imported products.
As you see, gentlemen, the aniline colors can be made in this country, just as good as in Europe, the only question being: Can we make them as cheap as they are made abroad?
This question can only be positively answered after we have had a chance to manufacture for a few years under normal instead of, as we are doing now, under absolutely
abnormal conditions. But, having been engaged in the dyestuff business for the last fifteen years, I can say that, if we continue to improve our yields as we have been able to
improve our shades, we will finally reach the efficiency so well standardized by our colleagues on the other side. It will interest you to know that, in starting new processes, we
begin as a rule with a yield of only 20 per cent, or even less, while we know the yield should be 80 to 90 per cent, but keeping on experimenting we finally succeed in getting proper
yields as we get proper shades.
After discussing the progress made in the aniline dyestuff industry in this country, I like to go over to the question: “What is to be expected in the future?” and in doing so,
gentlemen, I have to say that the future of the American dyestuff industry depends very much on you, as consumers of our products. Since the war broke out you have undoubtedly
assisted us greatly in our endeavors to develop and refine our manufacturing processes. If you would not have been broadminded, as you are, and would not have taken from our
hands ton lots after ton lots of such dyestuffs which were not quite up to standard shade, we would have gone bankrupt at the start. And why should you not have taken these off-
shade lots from our hands, and by doing so enable us to keep on these very expensive experiments? It is only necessary for you, who consume dyestuffs, to arrange matters so as
to be able to assist us quite extensively! Take, for instance, methylene blue. A very large quantity of this bright blue is used in shading blacks on silk. You will understand that
methylene blue which is not quite as bright as it ought to be, may just as well be used for this purpose. The little black, which is incidentally in the off shade product, does not
interfere with the final results which you get, if you just take a little less black and top the black with more blue. From this little instance you can see how co-operation helps us and
you at the present time; and it, is your co-operation which our infant American dyestuff industry needs so very badly to establish itself permanently. By our combined efforts, you as
consumers and we as manufacturers of aniline colors have been able to get from a Government committed to a “tariff for revenue only” policy, at last something like a protective
tariff, on which, I think, we can take a chance, or, if you want to call it so, gamble to see how we come out when conditions get normal again. But it will be necessary, gentlemen,
that you bestow the cooperation and assistance which we have received, and are receiving from you on such a large scale during the present upset conditions, on us also later on,
when times become normal again. Don’t be too particular in regard to shades when the American dyestuff industry brings out new products! Try to use the products of the first
attempts whenever there is any chance of using them! Do not kick against the newcomer who is trying to enter the circle of the well-established American industries! Do not kick
him out if you would have to pay him a penny per pound or so more than you would have to pay for imported products! One thousand millions of dollars per year is the turn-over of
the American textile industries, and only about $10,000,000 worth of dyestuffs enter into these textile goods, or, in other words, only 1 per cent of the cost of the goods. The small
fraction of this 1 per cent which the American public would eventually have to pay for a few years is made up a thousandfold by the fact that later on the millions will stay in this
country, instead of going to foreign countries, giving employment to thousands of highly-skilled employees and laborers. Consider this fraction of 1 per cent as atuition fee the
American public is paying for the tutoring of our American chemists, our American dyestuff machinery concerns, and our American workingmen! All of them have to learn—and
remember that a great deal of learning was necessary when your own industries were established!
If we will have your good will and your cooperation, gentlemen, in the future, as we have enjoyed it during the last two years, I can assure you that within a few years from now you
will find your industry independent from other countries for its supply of dyes.
Having tried to give you a picture of what has been accomplished in, and what may be expected from the American dyestuff industry, I conclude with the sincere wish that the
industry you represent, and which is engaged in handling the noblest of all fibres—that this noble industry will be found foremost in the rank of those who with untiring effort will
work to the final accomplishment of that noble and worthy task, namely, the firm establishment of an American dyestuff industry, so absolutely necessary for the industrial and
military independence of our great beloved country!
*President and Chairman of Board of Directors, General Manager, W. Beckers Aniline & Chemical Works, Inc.
|Dr. William G. Beckers' Speech to National Silk Convention
November 23, 1916