|Naugatuck Chemical Company
Naugatuck Chemical Company ca. 1910
Naugatuck was settled in 1701 as a farming community in rural Western Connecticut. As the Industrial Revolution commenced, Naugatuck was transformed
into a mill-town like other cities in the Naugatuck Valley. Rubber was the major product made there. The United States Rubber Company, renamed Uniroyal
Inc. in 1961, was founded in Naugatuck in 1892 and maintained its corporate headquarters there until the 1980s. The Footwear Division manufactured Keds
“sneakers” in Naugatuck from 1917 until the 1980s. U.S. Rubber also produced Naugahyde fabric in a Naugatuck factory, but it is no longer produced there.
The company founders recognized that chemistry was the key to make rubber more serviceable. A group of Eastern footwear makers united in 1892 to
share research and lower costs. One of the companies was the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Co. of Naugatuck, founded in 1843 by Samuel L. Lewis
under the first license granted by Charles Goodyear, who discovered the rubber vulcanization process in 1839.
Due to an increase in the price of sulfuric acid, which was needed to reclaim used rubber at the time, the United States Rubber Co. formed the Naugatuck
Chemical Company subsidiary on June 1, 1904. This company started manufacturing sulfuric acid and was soon in the forefront of the chemical industry in
the United States. Commodore Elias P. Benedict was the president, the position he held until 1914; James B. Ford was vice president; Charles E. Sholes,
secretary; and Matthew Adgate, a veteran of acid manufacture, was plant superintendent. Adgate later became vice president.
The plant, which was located on Elm Street and the railroad, had 43 buildings on twenty acres along the Naugatuck River. The company manufactured
sulfuric acid, nitric acid, muriatic acid, hydrofluoric acid, acetic acid, nitrobenzene, aniline, and antimony sulfides. This was one of the larger concerns of
Naugatuck, employing 160 people.
Hydrofluoric acid was used for pickling castings and removing sand from brass castings. Nearby Waterbury had large brass mills.
The reclaimed rubber unit was partly converted in 1913 to the caustic soda process perfected by Raymond B. Price, who joined the company when the
Rubber Regeneration Co. was acquired by U.S. Rubber. Price was named vice president and placed the firm's research on a sound scientific foundation.
He formed a group of Ph.D. chemists and physicists and organized the general laboratories.
The onset of World War I cut off the supply of aniline, the main rubber accelerator and softener, from Germany. The company quickly hired technical
experts and installed equipment to manufacture its own aniline, which prevented the tire plants from shutting down. Thiocarbanilide was discovered as an
improved vulcanizer and went into production.
The company consolidated various footwear brands under one name, Keds, in 1916. Keds were the first mass-marketed canvas-top "sneakers" in 1917.
Damage from an explosion in the nitrobenzene building No. 7 at the plant in 1920 was estimated at $100,000. There was no one in the building at the time,
and none of the twenty-five employees at work in other buildings nearby were injured. The explosion was felt in New Haven.
During the early 1920s, organic chemical research was expanded. "VGB" was introduced in 1924 as the first successful rubber antioxidant, and several
million pounds per year were made. Later, secondary amines such as "BLE" were found to be superior antioxidants. The company succeeded in using
liquid rubber latex as a raw material after devising techniques to prevent the latex from spoilage during storage and shipment. U.S. Rubber was the first
company in the U.S. to commercialize latex. This resulted in greatly increased manufacture of pile carpeting and coated fabrics.
Another discovery was "Hepteen", an accelerator made from aniline and heptaldehyde. The company invented a continuous thermal-cracking process to
make the chemical from castor oil and became the largest producer of heptaldehyde in the world.
During the Depression, U.S. Rubber expanded in rubber chemicals and branched into two related fields: aromatics and agricultural chemicals. The
jasmine odor base, amyl cinnamic aldehyde, was made from heptaldehyde. This launched the Aromatics Division, which generated pleasant scents for
soaps and cosmetics. The violet-scented ionones from lemon grass oil were also introduced. Valuable experience came from the company's collaboration
with the Louis Bornand Laboratories of Paris and Bruno Court of Grasse, France, an old essential oil and perfume business.
The company examined thousands of organic chemicals it had synthesized as potential insecticides and fungicides. An insecticide called "Syntone" was
developed, in addition to two fungicides, "Spergon" and "Phygon", which boosted seed germination and crop yields.
Research on textiles led to a chemical treatment that strengthened cotton fibers. The cotton cord called "Ustex" was an improved material for tire fabrics
and parachute harness webbing.
When the Japanese prevented access to the Far Eastern rubber plantations, U.S. Rubber developed dodecylmercaptan, which could make rubber of any
desired viscosity, from liquid to hard solid. This chemical was coded "OEI", which stood for the "One Essential Ingredient". The company operated a
government plant that supplied this synthetic rubber modifier during the war. U.S. Rubber also pioneered in synthetic rubber production, designing and
building one of the first three plants that helped the U.S. win the war. The company also operated TNT plants for the government.
In 1946 M. G. Shepard was manager of the Chemical Division staff at Naugatuck. Research activities included research, development, and control work on
synthetic rubber, rubber chemicals, aromatic chemicals, agricultural chemicals, dye intermediates, reclaimed rubber, latex compositions, aqueous
dispersions, plastics, lacquers, and high explosives. The manager of the Footwear Division was J. E. Robinson. Research activities involved the style,
design, construction, compound, and process development for various types of waterproof and canvas footwear.
The wartime research on synthetic rubber led to a new line of postwar products. "Naugahyde", a woven fabric coated with a rubber compound, was made
fireproof for upholstery use by substituting a plastic compound for the rubber. "Vibrin" sheeting, reinforced with fiberglass, was introduced as the outer
casing for the rubber fuel tanks on planes. Consumer articles like clock cases and lightweight boats were made from "Vibrin".
The Naugatuck Chemical Division had several breakthroughs in the field of chemical blowing agents for expanding synthetic foam products. "Celogen
OT", which has the chemical name p-p'-oxybis benzene sulfonyl hydrazide, or OBSH, was discovered by Dr. Loren Schoene in 1951. U.S. Patent no. 2,552,065
for this symmetrical sulfonyl hydrazide was awarded at that time. OBSH was the most useful and popular of the sulfonyl hydrazide type blowing agents,
especially in the early days of the production of nitrile-vinyl insulation tubing.
Azodicarbonamide or ADCA was discovered in 1892. Germany first used ADCA as a chemical blowing agent in World War II to expand PVC. This use was
reported by an Allied technical investigation team after the war in the B.I.O.S. reports made available to companies in Europe and the U.S.
But when ADCA was tried in the rubber industry, the decomposition temperature of 210 degrees C was too high for use in sponge (nitrile-vinyl foam) for
insulation, flotation and athletic applications. Naugatuck Chemical discovered that glycerol (1,2,3-propanetriol) lowered the decomposition temperature.
The patent was awarded in 1957. This work enabled the use of ADCA in the rubber and plastics industries. Uniroyal Chemical obtained the first patent for
the manufacture of ADCA in the U.S. ( no. 2,692,281). The product, "Celogen AZ", was first produced in 1954.
W. S. Coe was head of R & D in 1960. The technical staff consisted of 160 chemists; engineers: 44 chemical, 1 mechanical; and 220 technicians. Research
was focused on synthetic rubbers, reclaimed rubber, rubber chemicals; plastics (polyvinyl chloride, resin-rubber blends, polyesters); synthetic and
compounded latices; agricultural chemicals; aqueous dispersions; heavy chemicals; and solid fuel propellants.
Naugatuck Chemical remained a subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Co. until it gained independence as Uniroyal Chemical Company in 1966. They moved their
headquarterw to Middlebury, Connecticut in the 1970s. Most operations at Naugatuck ceased in the late 1970s.
In 1986, Avery Inc., a New York holding company, acquired Uniroyal Chemical. Avery sold the company in 1989 to UCC Investors, a group of management
employees and Drexel Burnham Lambert. Crompton & Knowles, a manufacturer of dyes and machinery, purchased Uniroyal Chemical for $1.4 billion in
1996. Crompton & Knowles merged with Witco Chemical in 1999 to form the CK Witco Corporation. This company merged with Great Lakes Chemical in
2005 to form Chemtura Corp.
In recent years only about 50 people worked at the Naugatuck plant compared to 9,500 employed at its peak.
Until the 1970s, the Naugatuck River was subject to discharges from the cities and industries along its banks. As far back as 1890, when there were few
environmental laws, the state Sewage Commission said the river was already polluted to its limit. For more than a century, industrial waste from
Waterbury's brass mills, Naugatuck's chemical and rubber companies, and metal-working factories in the lower Naugatuck Valley was dumped into the river.
Smoke and foul odors contaminated the air.
In the 1960s the river often changed color from the dyes used to color Keds sneakers. Today, most of the factories are closed, with some sites converted
to shopping malls or housing. Other sites like Naugatuck Chemical are deserted, ghostly relics of the Valley's once mighty industries. EPA pollution
regulations mandated pollution controls on municipal and industrial discharges, and the closure of the factories helped the Naugatuck River recover.
Wildlife has returned and there are no health warnings for the entire 39-mile length of the Naugatuck River watershed.
1) This article is adapted from Williams Haynes, "United States Rubber Company", in American Chemical Industry, Vol. 6, D. Van Nostrand Co., New York,
1949, pp. 452-455
2) William J. Pape, History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut, S.J. Clark Publishing Co., 1918, http://books.google.com/books?
id=aAwWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA363&dq=%22naugatuck+chemical%22&as_brr=1, accessed May 11, 2009
3) Drug and Chemical Markets, 1920; http://books.google.com/books?id=sxzOAAAAMAAJ&printsec=toc#PRA1-PA299,M1, accessed May 11, 2009
4) Industrial Research Laboratories of the United States, National Research Council, 1946, http://books.google.com/books?
id=vDcrAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA319&dq=%22industrial+research+laboratories%22%2B+naugatuck+rubber&as_brr=1, accessed May 11, 2009
5) Industrial Research Laboratories of the United States, National Research Council, 1960, http://books.google.com/books?
id=pzgrAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage#PPA484,M1, accessed May 11, 2009
6) "Waterbury Time Machine III", http://www.freewebs.com/brasscity/outoftown.htm, accessed May 11, 2009
7) "Expanding Rubber Through the Years", http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Expanding+rubber+through+the+years-a014459629, accessed May 11, 2009
8) John Burgeson, "PCBs still plague Housatonic River", Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT), June 22, 2008; http://savethehousatonic.org/wp-
content/uploads/2008/07/PCBs%20still%20plague%20Housatonic%20River.pdf, accessed May 10, 2009
Note from ColorantsHistory.Org: The author's godfather, Alvaro Adao (1904-1974), worked many years as a chemical operator at the Naugatuck Chemical
plant, retiring around 1960.
Former employees who would like to share their experiences working at this plant can contact the author by clicking the Contact link below.
Trade Ad 1907
|U.S. Rubber Plant in Naugatuck, CT in 1940. Note Piles of Used Tires in Foreground. Photo: Library of Congress
Copyright ©2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|Rear View of Naugatuck Chemical Plant (Uniroyal) in Naugatuck in 2005. Most of the remaining buildings were demolished in 2008.
Photo Courtesy of Gary Komarowsky
|Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Co., Downtown Naugatuck, CT-ca. 1890
|"Nauagatuck Chemical Company, Naugatuck, Connecticut"
By Robert J. Baptista, Updated May 19, 2009
View "Speaking of Rubber", a 1951 film that spotlights the U.S. Rubber Company. In the 28 minute film, shot in Naugatuck, a retired "rubber man", first
hired in 1910, touts the many consumer uses of rubber to his grandson. There are scenes of rubber manufacturing, rubber plantations, even downtown
Naugatuck and the old Naugatuck High School. The acting is not Academy Award caliber, but the film is representative of the industrial film genre popular
in the 1950s. This may have been one of the "Industry on Parade" episodes, sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, and broadcast on
TV by NBC. The audio quality of the musical soundtrack is poor but the dialogue is clear. Source: Internet Archive (Public Domain)
Naugatuck Chemical Company-1906. Image: Library of Congress
Panoramic View of Naugatuck and Valley-1913. Photo: Library of Congress