|Drawing of Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation Plant ca. 1916
Holston River and Clinch Mountains in Background. Courtesy of Archives of City of Kingsport
The Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation was incorporated in Delaware on October 4, 1915, with an impressive capitalization of $15 million. Curtailment of the import of dyestuffs from
Germany during World War I and the need for military explosives were the major factors in launching this venture. Government statistics showed that 50 million pounds of dyestuffs were
imported in 1913, but very little in 1914-1916. Congress passed a law placing a protective duty on dyestuffs to encourage domestic manufacture as quickly as possible.
Rockefeller and du Pont powder interests were believed to be the principal investors. The Directors of the company were:
A. M. Archer, Treasurer of the corporation, New York
C. Vanderbilt Barton, Director, Empire Trust Co., New York
R. G. Barclay, Barclay & Co., Export Merchants, New York
G. T. Bishop, President of the corporation, New York
George A. Coulton, President, Union National Bank, Cleveland
W. Sackett Duell, Secretary, Klauder-Weldon Dyeing Machine Co., Yardley, Pennsylvania
Ralph L. Fuller, President, Cleveland Chamber of Commerce
John W. Herbert, Capitalist, New York
John C. Hebden, Vice President of the corporation, Kingsport
Edwin Allan Macpherson, Capitalist, New York
Mark W. Potter, President, Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio R. R., New York
E. G. Tillotson, Investment Securities, Cleveland
George C. Van Tuyl, Jr., Metropolitan Trust Company, New York
Archibald White, Investment Securities, New York
The company acquired 200 acres of land in Kingsport, Tennessee bordering the Holston River and served by the recently completed Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio Railroad. The ambitious plans
included production of dyestuffs, pharmaceuticals, and even inorganic chemicals such as barium chloride and blanc fixe. Construction was started in November 1915 and by the end of 1916 the
company had erected 29 buildings for the production of chemicals, intermediates and dyestuffs. This was the first manufacturing facility built in Kingsport. The company also had a business
office at 11 Pine Street in New York City . The firm of Dunker & Perkins in Boston was their dyestuffs sales representative for the New England market.
The site was strategically located for the supply of the basic raw materials for coal tar dyes: coal, sulfur, and salt. The plant produced caustic soda, chlorine, sodium, hydrochloric acid (40,000
pounds daily capacity), and nitric acid. The electrochemical unit consumed 5,000 kw of electricity in its operation. Labor conditions were very favorable for this location. The staff consisted of
35 chemists and 1,000 workers. Since Kingsport was undeveloped at the time, the company built its own guest house for visitors, a two-story building with sleeping porches. The facility also
served as a clubhouse for entertaining executives.
Manufacturing its own intermediates gave the company an advantage over competitors. Intermediates produced included nitrobenzene, dinitrobenzene, dinitrochlorobenzene, dinitrophenol,
trinitrotoluene, picric acid, aniline, toluidine, metaphenylenediamine and beta naphthol. Dyestuffs manufactured were sulfur black, browns and blue, direct yellows and browns for cotton, acid
yellows, oranges and scarlets for wool, and alizarine red and blue. The quality was said to equal that of the best European dyestuffs.
The plant operations were led by Dr. John C. Hebden, Vice President and General Manager. He was a graduate of Brown University and had 30 years experience in the chemical and textile
industry in both the United States and Europe. Hebden , a Director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers 1914-1916, was also considered an expert in explosives. He was consulted
about the type of bomb that anarchists exploded on Wall St. September 16, 1920, which caused 35 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Hebden concluded that the bomb contained 100-200 pounds
of a mixture of TNT and picric acid.
Franklin P. Summers was the General Superintendent of the plant. He graduated Harvard with a B.A. in chemistry in 1906 and worked for Abbott Labs before moving to Kingsport. He later
became General Manager of the Noil Chemical & Color Works in New York and was Treasurer of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association during 1921-1932.
On January 4, 1916 the first shipment of dyes, worth $600, was made to the Taubel Hosiery Mills in Riverside, New Jersey. The first railcar shipment (41,350 pounds) of a dye, sulfur black, took
place on June 6, 1916. By November 1916, the plant had produced 800,000 pounds of dyestuffs and 350,000 pounds of explosives. About 50,000 pounds of chemicals and dyestuffs were
produced daily; plans were made to double this output in 1917.
The explosion of a lantern on February 19, 1916 set fire to a chemical tank, but employees prevented the flames from spreading and only one building was damaged. A. B. du Pont, Chairman of
the Board, said the damage was limited to the roof of one of the temporary buildings. There was no damage to production machinery.
An explosion on May 7, 1917 in the munitions area killed an employee, burned two others who later died, and did considerable damage. Production had been running 24 hours daily with three
shifts. An investigation was begun to determine if sabotage took place, even though the plant was guarded by federal troops. In 1918, the company announced that every plant employee was
Annual profit of over $2 million was estimated in a prospectus to sell stock in December 1916. Even higher profits were predicted for 1917. The goal was to retire $2 million of 6% notes due
June 1, 1918. However the company encountered operational, commercial, and financial problems. On January 23, 1917 several top executives resigned over policy matters with the Board.
Resigning were George T. Bishop, President and Director; George H. Schuler, Assistant to the President; Ralph L. Fuller, Vice President; Mark W. Potter, Director, and E. G. Tillotson, Director. E. A.
McPherson and E. S. Duell, Vice Presidents took charge of the company until successors could be elected. Mr. Bishop became First Vice President of Ralph L. Fuller Company, a dealer in
chemicals and dyes located in Cleveland.
In October 1917, the company went into receivership and two committees were former to represent the interests of noteholders. The committees were rivals and several offers to buy the
company were refused due to bitter disagreements. John W. Herbert, one of the receivers appointed by the U.S. District Court of Tennessee, reported in June 1918 that the company was
producing 9 million pounds of picric acid for a government contract. Large orders had also been received for sulfur dyestuffs, blues and khakis. But the company had defaulted on interest
payments in December 1917 and March 1918. A lawsuit was filed by the noteholders and the Court issued a decree to sell the company's assets.
In December 1917 the Canadian Munitions Commission offered to operate the Kingsport plant on a rental basis of $20,000 monthly. The Canadians demanded that 51 percent of Federal Dyestuff
stock be held in escrow for some years, with the title reverting to them if successful in operating the plant. The proposal was rejected. A few months later, DuPont interests offered $3.1million
for the company but this was rejected.
Construction of a factory to produce a tear gas for the U.S. government began on July 8, 1918. This chemical was brombenzylcyanide, a brown, oily liquid which was a potent lacrymator for
trench warfare. It was first manufactured in 1917 at an experimental plant at the American University Station at Washington. The chemical was made by chlorinating toluene to form benzyl
chloride, which was reacted with sodium cyanide in alcohol solution and distilled. The benzyl cyanide formed was then treated with bromine vapor. Production at Federal Dyestuff began on
October 29, with about five tons produced before the war ended in November 1918.
On August 15, 1918 the plant was sold to a syndicate consisting mainly of the New York noteholders. The company was named Union Dye and Chemical Corporation, with capitalization of $3
million and an office in New York. Everly M. Davis was President. The assets of Federal Dyestuff and Chemical were acquired for $1 million. Union Dye and Chemical said it would spend
$600,000 for expansion of the plant and that it had government contracts to supply sulfur blues and khaki dyestuffs. In January 1919, Chester A. Jayne, vice president of Ralph L. Fuller & Co.,
was elected president. The company began specializing in Sulfur Blue 4 Conc., one of the best sulfur blues offered. The sale of the product was through the company's agent Ralph L. Fuller &
Co., New York.
But when the war ended in November 1918, Union Dye and Chemical was burdened by high inventory of dyestuffs and cancellation of orders for explosives. In June 1919, the company
suspended plant operations until its claim for $2 million against the government could be collected. Manufacturing was resumed in November 1919, but on a reduced scale with only 150 workers
in the sulfur black and aniline units.
Union Dye and Chemical went bankrupt in 1921 and was sold at auction for only $200,000. The interests that purchased the plant planned to operate under the name of Kingsport Color
Corporation. This venture also failed. A portion of the plant property is now occupied by the adjoining Eastman Chemical company, then known as Tennessee Eastman.. The remainder of the
site was eventually demolished and became a residential area.
In 1918, John L. Crist and Dr. Glen M. Smyth, chemists skilled in dyes manufacturing, had resigned from Federal Dyestuff and Chemical to establish the Beaver Chemical Company in Damascus,
Virginia, about 60 miles east of Kingsport. Initial products were sulfur dyes and alizarine red. This plant became the first successful dyes producer in the South. It is ironic that a small,
under-capitalized company flourished in the dyes business until 1986, whereas the well funded Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation collapsed in just two years.
Federal Dyestuff and Chemical had owned 39 acres of real estate in the Hillcrest area of Kingsport, several miles from the plant. This property was worth $30,000 at the time. It overlooked a
beautiful valley in the area. The development had four well-built homes erected for the officers of the company. One home was built for Franklin P. Summers, General Superintendent, and was
worth $12,500. The Court ordered the sale of the development and it was purchased in July 1919 by T. J. Stephenson and others for $4,000 cash and assumption of an $18,000 mortgage.
1) "$15,000,000 Company Will Turn Out Dyes", The New York Times, October 5, 1915
2) "Dunker & Perkins", American Dyestuff Reporter, December 19, 1917
3) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. II, pp. 236, 275 (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1945)
4) "Fire in Picric Acid Plant", The New York Times, February 20, 1916
5) "Dyestuffs, American Enterprise Competes with Europe", White & Co. Stock Offering Ad, The Syracuse Herald, December 7, 1916
6) "Federal Dyestuff & Chemical Corporation", White & Co. Ad, The Syracuse Herald, December 8, 1916
7) "Chemical Officials Resign", The New York Times, January 24, 1917
8) "Munitions Plant Suffers in Blast", Sandusky Star-Journal, May 7, 1917
9) "Noteholders Organize", The New York Times, October 9, 1917
10) "To Sell Federal Dyestuff Property", American Dyestuff Reporter, June 3, 1918
11) "Federal Dyestuff Announcement", American Dyestuff Reporter, July 1, 1918
12) News Article, American Dyestuff Reporter, July 18, 1918
13) "Kingsport Men Buy Hillcrest Development", Kingsport Times, July 8, 1919
14) Margaret Ripley Wolfe, Kingsport Tennessee A Planned American City, pp. 34-35, 60-61(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987)
15) M.D. Edmonds, "Phenomenal Growth of Kingsport, Tenn., Due to Co-operation and American Efficiency", Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 16, 1916
16) Belle Gardner Hammond, "The Dye Plant, Kingsport Tennessee", September 1998, Archives of the City of Kingsport
17) "Thinks Bomb Held 100 Pounds of TNT", The New York Times, September 21, 1920
18) "Federal Dyestuff Difficulties", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 1, No. 13, December 31, 1917, p. 7
19) "Notes of the Trade", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 2, No. 9, April 1, 1918 p. 6
20) "Sulphur Blue", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 4, No. 4, January 27, 1919, p. 15
21) Benedict Crowell, Robert Forest Wilson, How America Went to War, The Armies of Industries, Vol. II, Yale University Press, 1921, p. 503
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Brian Wilson, Archivist at the Kingsport Public Library and Archives, for supplying valuable documents and photos used in this history.
|Franklin P. Summers, General Superintendent
|Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation
|Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Co. Location. 1919 Map of Kingsport
|Former Plant Location Now Residential Area. 1991 Aerial Photo
|View of Site ca. 1917. TNT Made in Roundhouse Building at Right. Smokestack at
Left Now Location of Lincoln Street. Courtesy of Archives of City of Kingsport
|Another View of Site ca. 1917. At Left, Government Was Building Office for Arsenal;
Demolished When War Over. Dirt Road in Foreground Now East Sullivan St.
Courtesy of Archives of City of Kingsport
Click on Photos to Enlarge
|This Is the Oldest Known Postcard Photo of the Dye Plant, Dated 1917. Photo Courtesy of David Martin
Copyright © 2004-2008 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|Dunker & Perkins Was the Sales Agent for Federal
Dyestuff and Chemical Corporation
Image: Textile Overseer's Association of Fitchburg,
Massachusetts, 1917. Courtesy of Peter Metzke.