Ernest Kay Halbach (1883-1958)
Reproduction of Williams Haynes, ""The Old Order Passeth"-A Profile of Ernest Kay Halbach (1883-1958)", American Dyestuff Reporter,
Vol. 47, February 24, 1958, pp. 135-136:
Almost the last link with the dye industry of the Old Regime was snapped when Ernest Halbach died, January 24, at the age of 74. His long career was a true
Horatio Alger story, a pattern now as out-of-date in business as in boys’ books. He started as an office boy with Wm Pickhart & Kuttroff; he ended an honored
dean of the industry.
After sound training in the Three R’s—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic—he passed up an appointment to West Point for a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder with
the prominent, prosperous American sales agents of the famous Badische Works. In this atmosphere the ambitious lad of sixteen was inspired to become a
“Don’t do it,” warned his big boss, Adolph Kuttroff. “There is no future for a dye chemist in America. You will end up matching shades.” Telling the story years
later, Halbach said, “He was the wisest, kindest, strictest man I ever knew, but like many of the old timers of those days he could not believe that complex coal-
tar colors could ever be made in America. His advice was oh so wrong in its reasoning, but quite right in its conclusion. I haven’t the making of a chemist, so
instead of studying chemistry, I took some night business courses at the West Chester Teachers College. Soon they sent me to Boston to learn selling dyes the
hard way, to the New England textile mill.”
Nineteen years later, he was back in Philadelphia, manager of that branch, and in 1923 he became sales manager of Kuttroff-Pickhardt & Co, Inc.
The next year, Herman Metz, Hoechst representative in the U S, learned that the leading German chemical firms were planning a merger. Each had its own sales
agent here, so to prevent any one becoming exclusive American representative of the proposed consolidation Metz persuaded the agents of Badische, Cassella,
and Bayer to join with him in the General Dyestuff Corporation. During World War I, Metz had fought a rough and tumble fight in defense of the German dye
companies. Out of this experience he insisted that the American agents finance their own company in order that it should be wholly owned by American citizens.
When the I G was organized in 1926, General Dyestuff became its American agent. Kuttroff was chairman; Metz, president; Halbach, secretary-general manager.
When Kuttroff died in 1930, Metz became chairman, Halbach moved up to the presidency.
In 1929 the I G bought from Grasselli the old pre-war Bayer plant at Albany, N Y. They rechristened it the General Aniline Works; concentrated here American
production of intermediates, dyes, and specialties; and put the sales of these products into the hands of General Dyestuff.
During the hard, lean 1930’s Halbach, a consummate salesman himself showed that he was also a great sales strategist and leader. He recruited and trained
one of the most efficient sales forces in the dye field and reinforced them with the largest staff of chemists and colorists with splendidly equipped laboratories
at New York, Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and San Francisco. The enthusiasm and loyalty of these men, salesman and technicians alike, their
esprit de corps, was high tribute to his own devotion to his work, his warm, helpful friendliness, his sense of fair play.
Ernest Halbach was a hard-hitting but clean-handed competitor. General Dyestuff had always its share of the tonnage business, but he always bore down upon
the new improved colors, the very latest, best dyeing assistants. He was proudest, I think, of the great missionary work his men did for better dyeing and
finishing, better textiles for the consumer. Characteristically, he ignored his own part in constantly urging General Aniline to duplicate in this country every
worthy new dye and specialty developed in the German laboratories, his long fight against commercial bribery and his distinguished services to the War
Production Board during World War II. His competitors know best what a constructive force he exerted in the industry during the long years of his
During World War II, the Government took over General Aniline & Film as an enemy-owned property. The Government was thus compelled to buy control of
General Dyestuff, because, without this sales organization, General Aniline could not be operated successfully. There was legal urgency in this compulsion
which, in turn, bred other compulsions, and the American stockholders were urged to sell upon patriotic grounds. When they agreed to accept the Government
offer for their stock, their president felt compelled to go along with them. At the Government’s behest, Halbach continued to head the organization. But it was
thought to be a situation that could hardly be cooperative and congenial, so after a couple of years he resigned.
Among the assets of General Dyestuff was a stock interest in the Verona Chemical Co, makers of some intermediates, photographic chemicals, and aromatics
for the cosmetic industry. Back in 1902, Verona had been started by Edwin Kuttroff, son of Ernest Halbach’s first employer, to produce vanillin, saccharine, and
other then-new coal-tar synthetics. In 1938, prompted by Halbach and in part financed by General Dyestuff, his brother-in-law, F. H. Stafford, bought Verona and
was its head till 1950 when he died and Halbach assumed general control.
After he resigned from General Dyestuff, Halbach was able to purchase that corporation’s interest in Verona. He added a new division, Verona Dyes, a sales
agency for selected domestic and imported dyes. Almost his first act was to equip and man an ultramodern dye-application laboratory at the headquarters in
Union, N J. Just before his health barred him from business activity, he negotiated with Eugene Markush a merger of Verona and the Pharma Chemical Corp.
No one who knew Ernest Halbach ever questioned his forthright patriotism. After years of friendship, I was, as a director of the reorganized Verona, closely
associated with him in recent years. I know how he was cut to the quick by the Government’s action with regard to General Dyestuff. It outraged his sense of fair
play; it killed his justifiable pride in what had been his life work. Yet it could not embitter his honest, friendly, courageous spirit. Out of what seemed the wreck of
his career, he started at nearly 70, to build anew.
He had lived for some 40 years in Short Hills, NJ; a prominent, popular member of the community. He married twice: first, to Elizabeth Stafford, and several years
after her death, to an old friend of the family, Mrs. Helen Page Woodell. By his first wife he had three daughters: two survive him, Mrs. John Kemmerer and Mrs.
Roy Bumstead Jr.
Ernest Halbach was always a good neighbor and an active citizen. His clubs included the Union League and Merchants in New York, Merion Cricket in
Philadelphia, Baltusrol Golf and Pine Valley.
In Christ Church, Short Hills, an impressive memorial service was held, attended by a throng that filled even the side aisles with friends of every rank from every
sphere into which his active life had led him. The rector paid a brief, fitting tribute to his friend and vestryman.
“Ernest,” he emphasized, “was a four-square man.”
Ernest K. Halbach Biography