Cincinnati Chemical Works
|Cincinnati Chemical Works, Ohio, ca. 1934, by Otto Baumberger
Image: Society of Chemical Industry in Basle: 1884-1934
After World War I, the U.S. Congress imposed stiff tariffs on imported dyes and chemical intermediates to foster the growth of the domestic colorants industry. In 1920 the Basle Community of
Interests (Basle C. I), representing the Swiss chemical companies Ciba, Geigy and Sandoz, decided to establish a company in the U.S. to avoid the high tariffs and participate in the growing
demand for domestic dyes and pigments. (1)
The Swiss chemical companies had already been making dyes for over 50 years. Ciba (The Society of Chemical Industry) had plants at Basle, Petit Humingue, and Monthey, in Switzerland; and
St. Fons in Lyons, France; Pabianice and Moscow, Russia; and Clayton Aniline in Manchester, England. Ciba manufactured coal-tar products and basic, acid, direct, sulfur, mordant, and vat dyes
for all textile fibers; specialties for silk: artificial silk, wood, straw, paper, leather, jute, ink and lakes; and synthetic indigo. The Sandoz Chemical Works had a factory in Basle, as did the J.R.
Geigy Co. (2)
In 1920 the Swiss conglomerate purchased the colorants business of the Ault & Wiborg Co. which had plants in the Norwood and St. Bernard areas of Cincinnati, Ohio. The economic
depression of the early 1920s resulted in losses and many obstacles had to be overcome before manufacturing yielded satisfactory results. The turnaround began in 1924 when even higher
tariff barriers were enacted for imported dyes.
In subsequent years the Cincinnati Chemical Works became profitable, despite strong competition from other U.S. producers of high valued dyes. Although Ciba, Sandoz and Geigy had the
Cincinnati Chemical Works as common source for their dyes, they sold their domestically produced and imported dyes independently. Each firm had its own sales office in New York City.
A licensing agreement with the Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Michigan was arranged so a number of Basle patented dyes, including indigo colors, was made there. Dow provided coal-tar
intermediates and raw materials such as bromine, important for vat dye manufacture.
The St. Bernard plant was close to the Procter & Gamble facilities. The Norwood plant was near the University of Cincinnati. The administration, color testing, and R & D laboratories were
housed in an impressive building located on several acres of beautifully landscaped grounds in Bond Hill, near the St. Bernard plant. (1) By 1933, the Cincinnati facilities employed 352 people:
304 workmen and a staff of 48 salary employees including chemists and engineers. (3)
A violent explosion in 1935 blew out part of the west side of the Norwood plant. The nighttime blast shook northern and eastern Cincinnati. The explosion occurred in a sub-basement.
Fortunately, only one of 18 employees in the unit was injured. (4)
One of the great scientific discoveries of World War II was the insecticide DDT, which has the chemical name 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). It
was first synthesized in 1874 by a German student named Othmar Zeidler, but he was not aware of its insecticidal properties. Just before World War II, the Geigy chemist Paul Muller
rediscovered the compound and found that it was a powerful insecticide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture began experiments with DDT by 1942 and got sensational results regarding its effectiveness in killing mosquitoes that spread malaria and lice that spread
typhus. DDT suddenly had immense military potential.
But U.S. chemical companies lacked a suitable manufacturing process. This was solved in 1943 by a Swiss-born chemist, Dr. Oskar Frey, who was employed at the Cincinnati Chemical Works.
In May 1943 a pilot plant at Norwood was started up using the reaction of monochlorobenzene and chloral hydrate to form DDT. Production of DDT for the Army quickly rose to 350,000 pounds a
month, 60 percent supplied by the Cincinnati Chemical Works. (5,6)
Cincinnati Chemical Works further contributed to the war effort by the production of intermediates for sulfonamides and finished sulfa drugs. (7)
After the war, vat dyes became the fastest growing segment of the dye industry. These dyes, used mainly for cotton dyeing and printing, had extraordinary fastness properties compared to
alternatives such as sulfur dyes. Ciba decided to build a world scale vat dye plant at a 1,250 acre site in Toms River, New Jersey, which came on stream in 1952. The U.S. name for the
company was now the Toms River-Cincinnati Chemical Company.
However the vat dye market did not grow as large as Ciba predicted, and the Toms River plant was burdened with excess capacity. At this time the St. Bernard plant was mainly producing
intermediates such as the letter acids R Salt and G Salt. Another building was devoted solely to the production of the carcinogenic dye intermediate benzidine. St. Bernard also made the
carcinogen beta-naphthylamine. The Norwood plant manufactured azo dyes such as acid, direct, mordant, solvent, reactive, disperse and basic for textiles, paper and leather. The synthesis
involved the classical dye reactions of diazotization and coupling, metal complexing, etc. In order to reduce operating costs, the St. Bernard and Norwood plants were closed in 1959, with dye
production transferred to Toms River along with 89 employees. The name of the company was changed to Toms River Chemical. (1)
The St. Bernard site was valuable because it had railroad facilities. Proctor & Gamble bought the plant's warehouse, which was wooden, demolished it and built a new warehouse. The
manufacturing buildings on the site were sold to the Maumee Chemical Co., a small Ohio-based company that agreed to continue to manufacture intermediates such as pyrazolones for Toms
River. The administration complex in Bond Hill was sold to the federal government and became the William Howard Taft Sanitation Facility, a forerunner of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. (1) Today the facility houses the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services.
The Cincinnati employees who transferred to Toms River were checked annually for signs of bladder cancer. Employee concerns about the health effects of chemicals handled at Toms River
led to the University of Alabama conducting several studies of worker mortality. The last study was released in 1998 and confirmed earlier epidemiological studies that reported Toms River
Chemical workers had a slightly lower cancer rate than the general population. Union employees disputed this rather surprising finding. But the researchers did report an increase in cancer
fatalities among the 89 workers who had previously worked at the Cincinnati facility. They had higher death rates from bladder cancer due to exposure to benzidine and beta-naphthylamine,
used for the production of dyes at Cincinnati. The Toms River plant used benzidine but did not manufacture it, which was the case in Cincinnati. (8)
Most dye operations at Toms River were shut down in 1988 because of severe environmental pollution from an on-site hazardous waste landfill and a leaking underground pipeline that
discharged treated wastewater to the Atlantic Ocean. All chemical manufacturing at the site ceased in 1996.
1) Mr. Abraham Reife, personal communication, September 6, 9, 2007
2) "Ault & Wiborg Interests Purchased By S.C.I., Sandoz and Geigy, American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 6, No. 23, pp. 16-17
3) Society of Chemical Industry in Basle: 1884-1934, pp. 50-51
4) "Blast in Chemical Plant is Severe", Piqua Daily Call, February 22, 1935
5) “DDT”, Time, January 12, 1944
6) Darwin H. Stapleton, "The Short-Lived Miracle of DDT", Invention and Technology, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2000
7) John E. Lesch, The First Miracle Drugs: How the Sulfa Drugs Transformed Medicine, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 220
8) "Ciba Workers Knock Cancer Study", Asbury Park Press, July 5, 1998
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Abraham Reife for his contributions to the history of the Cincinnati Chemical Works and the Toms River Chemical Company.
|Ciba Co. Dyes Advertisement, 1925
Image: American Dyestuff Reporter Sample Swatch Quarterly, 1925. Click to Enlarge.
Copyright © 2007-2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|History of the Cincinnati Chemical Works
By Robert J. Baptista, September 10, 2007