|German Dyestuff Industry
The Reasons for Success
Reproduction of "Coal Tar Colour Making in Germany", The Chemical Trade Journal, January 28, 1899, p. 76:
If there is one branch of the chemical industry which has developed more than any other, or which, perhaps has led to greater
developments during the past fifty years, it is that of the manufacture of colouring matters or dyes from coal tar, and the raw
materials which can be made from that article. Although at its inception an English industry, yet it is now chiefly in the hands of
German manufacturing firms, and has received its greatest developments at the hands of German research chemists, who still,
year by year, add to the already large number of these dyes known; while their continuous research has resulted, and is yet
resulting in the discovery of other substances, which are of value for pharmaceutical, disinfecting, and like purposes.
We purpose here to give a brief sketch of the present condition of this important industry, to point out in what manner it has
developed, and the methods used by the various firms in bringing their products before the notice of customers, as affording an
object lesson in the extension of chemical industries.
The German coal tar colour industry is practically concentrated in a few hands and places; we may enumerate the following firms:--
The Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik, at Ludwigshafen am Rhein; Farbwerke vorm Meister, Lucius & Bruning at Hoechst am Main;
Farbenfabriken vorm Fr. Bayer & Co., at Elberfeld; Messrs. Leopold Cassella & Co., at Mainhur, near Frankfurt am Main;
Actiengesellschaft fur Anilin Fabrikation, of Berlin; Kalle & Co., Biebrich am Rhein; Farbwerk vorm. A. Leonhardt & Co., Mulheim am
Main; K. Oehler, at Offenbach am Main. These are all firms whose names have a world-wide reputation as makers of coal tar
colours, and in addition there are a few smaller manufacturers at Barmen, Uerdingen, &c. The capital invested in these firms is
very large, and extends to millions of pounds sterling. Some of them make from three to five hundred distinct dyes and all have
patented specialties peculiar to themselves. The Badische and Farbwerk are particularly notable for alizarine and azo dyes; the
Farbenfabriken for its series of benzo direct dyes for cotton, and for alizarines; the Actiengesellschaft for its Congo series of direct
dyes, and for azo dyes for wool; Cassella's for the diamine range of direct dyes for cotton.
That the manufacture pays, notwithstanding a somewhat lavish expenditure, is evidenced by the fact that these firms pay dividends
of 10 to 20 per cent. on their capital. What is the secret of their success? It lies very largely in the existence within all these works
of two, or shall we say three three departments. First a chemical research laboratory or laboratories in which many chemists are
engaged in the task of discovering new chemical combinations. Secondly, of textile dyeing and printing laboratories in which the
methods of using the firm's products are worked out and new processes are discovered. Thirdly, a pattern card, book printing, and
binding department, where the firms make all the pattern cards, by which they show their customer what effects the various dyes
will produce, and print the various instruction books they issue.
One great advantage possessed by the German colour works, is in their command of abundant and cheap chemical skill and
specially educated operatives. The Universities and Polytechnics of the country constantly turn out a throng of scientific chemists
specially trained in the processes of chemical research and willing to work for wages that college graduates and the better class of
operatives in England would refuse. The result is that the great aniline and chemical laboratories of Hoechst, Mainhur,
Ludwigshafen, Elberfeld, and Berlin employ, in addition to their regular working force, a large staff of young chemists (from fifty to
seventy at each establishment), whose sole function is that of research in the tireless quest for something new and valuable,
whether it be a new colour, or pharmaceutical product, or a cheaper or more direct method of producing one of the products
already known and in use. Mostly young graduates, fresh from the Universities, they work for small salaries in laboratories
perfectly equipped by their employers, under contracts which provide that whatever valuable discovery they shall make be
patented, and the patents transferred to the company, the inventor receiving a specified percentage of the profit accruing from its
manufacture and sale.
A single happy discovery may thus make the fortune of the inventor, and spurred on by such an incentive, many of the most
important discoveries of recent years have been made by men under 35 years of age, working for less than ₤ 100. a year, for great
corporations, that pay annual dividends of 10 to 20 per cent. It is thus, in the consummate scientific skill, which is both abundant
and cheap, that Germany enjoyed a decided advantage, which enables her aniline chemists to dominate and control the coal tar
colour manufacture in the world. It is useless for anyone, even an expert, to attempt to obtain from any laboratory in Germany any
secret information concerning ingredients, or processes employed in the manufacture of colours. Although competition between
the leading works is strong, their secrets are so well guarded that even the workmen, who carry on the manufacturing operations,
are not permitted to know the full process involved in the creation of any finished product. Such is the system on which research
work of the German colour works is carried on.
Now let us turn to another department-the dyeing and printing laboratories. These in all the larger works, are very elaborately fitted
with dyeing and printing appliances; in some cases these are on a similar scale to those used in a print and dye works; in others,
working models on a smaller scale are employed. This enables the firms to test the colours on a basis which will compare with
practical working. These laboratories are in charge of skilled colourists, and in them are to be found trained chemists, who are
engaged in applying the dyes to colouring all kinds of materials and developing new processes. There is no lack of help, for the
capabilities of these laboratories are so well known, that persons from all quarters are only too willing to work in them in return for
the experience they gain. These "voluntaires" are treated somewhat differently from the regular staff, and have greater freedom
In these laboratories are prepared the various dyed and printed fabrics, by means of which the firm brings before the notice of
textile colourists the methods of using, and the effects produced by using the dyes made by them. All the large firms issue very
elaborate instruction books costing a large amount of money. There is no doubt but that this system pays, although at first sight it
would seem to incur wanton expenditure. It certainly is successful in keeping before consumers the varied manner in which the
dyes may be used, and undoubtedly influences them to uses dyestuffs that otherwise they would not, which result is precisely what
the colour makers desire. Our English firms might adopt this system with advantage.
To ensure the production of the pattern cards, &c., to the best advantage, there is attached to the dyeing laboratories a small
printing, bookbinding, and pattern card making establishment, which would not discredit a professional printer.
We have thus endeavoured to give some idea of the conditions under which the great German coal tar colour trade has been built
up, and is being so profitably conducted, and we can only say to their English confreres, go and do likewise, and great shall be your
The flash of the photographer's camera caught the colourists of the Bayer main dyehouse in a somewhat stilted pose.
Their job was to put together the dyestuff samples for the travelling sales technicians. The pattern cards had samples of
dyed flocks (upper right), hanks (bottom left) and even feathers (bottom right).
Photo: E. Verg, G. Plumpe and H. Schultheis, Milestones: The Bayer Story (1863-1988) (Leverkusen: Bayer AG, 1988)