|Imperial Color, Chemical and Paper Corporation
Glens Falls, New York
Imperial Color, Chemical and Paper Corporation, Glens Falls, New York
A History by Robert J. Baptista, revised October 30, 2008
In the early 1900s, Glens Falls, located on the Hudson River in upstate New York, was a manufacturing hub of industries including paper, pulp, wallpaper, cement, lumber, gold and silver refining
and ale brewing.
The Imperial Color Works, Inc., established in 1915 at Glens Falls, New York, was one of the many synthetic organic colorants plants launched in the U.S. during the World War I dye famine. The
founders were George Tait, John J. McCabe and Karl R. McBride. Industrial activity at the site had begun earlier with American Wallpaper, which became Imperial Wallpaper in 1901. The firm
purchased paper stock and pigments for its wallpaper operation and started to manufacture its own inorganic pigments in 1907, after the company hired McBride, a chemist from the
Pittsburgh Wallpaper Company.
Tait soon became one of the largest wallpaper manufacturers in the U.S., which caught the attention of the federal government in 1911. Tait and seven other manufacturers and distributors
were charged with violation of the Sherman anti-trust act. All the wallpaper executives were acquitted in Federal Court in 1912.
Two of the earliest production buildings are illustrated below:
A wide range of brightly colored pigments wasestablished for wallpaper printing and for sale to other markets. An example is para red, synthesized by the diazotization of para-nitroanilne and
then coupling with beta-naphthol:
Imperial Color Works showcased its products at the National Exposition of Chemical Industries held in September 1918 in New York. The display included dry colors for the paint, printing ink,
leather, and textile industries, pulp colors for paper coating and paper mills, and special dyes for wool and Army khaki. The company also made hematin, fustic, quercitron and spruce
dyewood extracts from the bark of specific trees, in addition to inorganic pigments such as paris green, chrome green and prussian blue.
By 1921 Tait headed a large conglomerate of wallpaper companies known as the Tait Paper & Color Industries with wallpaper plants in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh and Hackensack, New Jersey.
He believed in controlling all the manufacturing and distribution steps "from the wood to the walls".
By 1928 the pigments business was flourishing and the wallpaper business profits were falling. Louis M. Brown replaced Tait as president and McBride became vice president and general
The company reorganized in 1929, taking the name Imperial Paper and Color Corporation. After Brown died in 1931, McBride became president. The company continued to grow despite the
During World War II, the company expanded manufacturing to include chemicals needed for military purposes such as zinc chromate (anti-corrosive coatings), chromium oxide (camouflage
green), and magnesium powders (flares and tracer bullets). The company received the prestigious Army-Navy "E" award for achieving excellence in war production. After the war, employees
organized in a labor union, District 50 of the United Mine Workers (UMW) of America. A strike took place in 1950 and again in 1968 when 500 members of Local 12962 of the UMW protested a
foreman doing work not allowed by the labor contract.
There was a significant investment in R & D that resulted in the introduction of new products, such as the innovative Mercadium inorganic pigments in 1955, and the continuous improvement
of manufacturing processes. Imperial became the leading producer of colored pigments in the U.S.
McBride died in 1957 after 50 years of dedicated work to growing the company and serving the local community. In 1960 the company, now known as the Imperial Color, Chemical and Paper
Corporation, was acquired by the Hercules Powder Corporation. The announcement was made by Albert E. Forster, president of Hercules, and Arthur P. Brown, president of Imperial. The
exchange was based on the rate of two shares of Imperial stock for each share of new Hercules preferred stock. At this time Imperial was both a major supplier of fine quality wallpapers and
a leading supplier of pigment colors to the paint, varnish, plastic, printing ink, and synthetic fiber industries. The main plant and headquarters office were in Glens Falls, with a branch plant in
Plattsburgh, New York and a manufacturing/sales subsidiary in Quebec. Sales in 1959 were $27.1 million with a net income of $1.9 million or $1.88 per share of common stock.
In 1958 the company stopped printing wallpaper at the Glens Falls plant due to lower demand in the home decoration market. Pigment production continued at Glens Falls and paper/wallpaper
operations continued at Plattsburgh. Hercules sold the paper mill and wallpaper division, based in Plattsburgh, to the H. Blonder & Company of Cleveland in 1962, which later became part of
Collins & Aikman.
By 1965 the product line had expanded to include the following pigments:
Ciba-Geigy Corporation purchased the Hercules pigment business, including the Glens Falls site, in 1979. At its peak, sales were over $100 million annually and nearly 1200 people were
employed. By 1986 the payroll was still a substantial $15 million annually, making the company the sixth-largest employer in Glens Falls.
But competitive pressures, unfavorable foreign exchange rates, and outmoded equipment weakened the business. The plant was shutdown in February 1989 and 530 employees were laid off.
Ciba-Geigy said “Despite productivity improvement programs and significant contributions by employees to cost savings, the plant continues to be unprofitable”. All buildings were demolished
except for a recently constructed warehouse.
Many employees who had spent their entire working lives at the plant, enjoying high wages and good benefits, had difficulty finding comparable paying jobs in the area. The company provided
retraining assistance to help employees find new jobs or to open businesses. A group of former employees continues to meet today to share news and to remember their work experiences.
The 60-acre site, located at Lower Warren Street and Quaker Road, and bounded on the south by the Hudson River, had soil, groundwater and sediments contaminated with heavy metals,
cyanide and volatile organic compounds. The 15-acre eastern portion was remediated in 1991 and sold to Warren County, which uses the warehouse for the department of public works. In
1996 site ownership was transferred from Ciba-Geigy Corporation to Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corporation. Hercules and Ciba entered into a cooperative agreement with Hercules managing
the corrective actions while Ciba retained ownership of the site. Full scale implementation of final corrective measures under the RCRA regulations was accomplished in September 2002.
But the outlook for redevelopment of the site is not good. The site is still listed as a Class 2 hazardous waste site by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The
situation might improve once Ciba-Geigy completes the final paperwork for the remediation. This could result in a Class 4 designation, with less restriction on redevelopment options.
George Tait's Letter to Congress in 1914 Opposing Anti-Trust Legislation
Karl McBride's Speech on His Years at Imperial, 1944 (Adobe PDF)
"A Short History of the Imperial Department of Hercules Powder Co.", 1962, (Adobe PDF)
Location Map and Aerial Photo of the Glens Falls Site Today
1) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. III, D. Van Nostrand Co., New York, 1945, p. 105
2) "Wall Paper Men Not Guilty", New York Times, May 25, 1912
3) Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Vol. 19, No. 6d, 1918, p. 494
4) “Wallpaper Plant to Close Sept. 2”, Daily Messenger (Canadaigua, NY), July 11, 1958
5) “Imperial, Hercules Firms to Merge in Stock Deal”, Times Record (Troy, NY), January 12, 1960
6) “Hercules Sells Paper Plant”, Post Standard (Syracuse, NY), February 15, 1962
7) Characteristics of Imperial Pigment Colors, Hercules Powder Co., Glens Falls, NY, May 1965
8) "Paper Plant Strike Ends at Glens Falls", Times Record (Troy, NY), September 17, 1968
9) Imperial Hercules Ciba-Geigy, Ciba-Geigy Corp., ca. 1980
10) “Ciba-Geigy to Close Plant, Laying Off 530”, Post Standard (Syracuse, NY), January 8, 1987
11) “Ciba-Geigy-Hercules Plant Site”, EPA, http://www.epa.gov/region02/waste/fsciba.htm, accessed September 28, 2008
12) “Documentation of Environmental Indicator Determination: RCRA Corrective Action: Current Human Exposures Under Control: Ciba/Hercules Main Plant Site”, EPA, http://www.epa.
gov/region02/waste/hercu725.pdf , accessed September 28, 2008
13) "Plant had 'colorful' history", PostStar.com, March 5, 2007,
http://www.poststar.com/articles/2007/03/05/community/hometown/c416f95070f0, accessed September 30, 2008
14) Scott Donnelly, "Ciba-Geigy site prospects stalled", PostStar.com, March 28, 2007,
http://www.poststar.com/articles/2005/07/19/news/local/181640.prt, accessed September 30, 2008
15) Pamela A. Brooks, "Talking about the good old days", PostStar.com, April 9, 2007
http://www.poststar.com/articles/2007/04/09/news/local/b856012decd26322852572b800127469.txt, accessed September 30, 2008
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Roger Reinicker and Charles Inman for their contributions to the history of the Glens Falls plant.
|Imperial Wallpaper Ad
Source: Syracuse Herald, April 8, 1925
Click to Enlarge.
Copyright © 2008-2010 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|Imperial Wallpaper Ad-1950
Glendura Wallpaper Protected Against Dirt,
Grease, Food Stains, and Crayons. Click to Enlarge
Synthesis of Para Red at Imperial Color Works
|Imperial Color Works, Glens Falls, NY-August 1925
Photo: Imperial Hercules Ciba-Geigy, ca. 1980
|Karl R. McBride, President of Imperial Paper
and Color Corporation. Click to Enlarge.
Photo: Imperial Hercules Ciba-Geigy, ca. 1980
|Top Photo: Building No. 33, May 24, 1910. Celebration of Laying of Cornerstone.
Bottom Photo: Building No. 10, 1910
Photos: Imperial Hercules Ciba-Geigy, ca. 1980.
|Aerial View of the Ciba-Geigy Imperial Color Plant, Glens Falls, NY, ca. 1980
Photo Courtesy of R. Reinicker
||Naphthol Reds and Maroon
|Basic Zinc Chromate
||Pigment Green B
||Helio Bordeaux Toners
||Chlorinated Para Reds
|Hydrated Chromium Oxides
||Red Lake C Toners
|Cadium Reds and Maroon
|Mercadium Reds and Maroons
|Paperweight Engraved "Imperial Color Works Inc., Glens Falls, N.Y."
Photos Courtesy of Alan Baginski. Click to Enlarge.