Geigy-A Historic Dyestuffs Company
The history of synthetic dyestuffs is mirrored in the history of the Geigy Company. The young merchant Johann Rudolph Geigy started the business in 1758 in Basel, Switzerland. He was a
dealer in “materialwaren” which included the colorants indigo, blue and yellow dyewoods, and quinine bark; pharmaceutical preparations such as purgatives; and coffee, pepper, nutmeg and
The early firm had more success with dyestuffs than pharmaceuticals. Carl Geigy, grandson of the founder, decided to produce his own dyestuff powders in 1830. He built a water-powered mill
where imported dyewoods were ground and sold to textile manufacturers. Production was expanded in 1856 with the conversion to steam for power. Johann Rudolph Geigy (1830-1917), a
fourth generation descendant of the founder, was now head of the firm. In the same year English chemist William Henry Perkin discovered mauve, the first synthetic dye which was derived
from coal tar aniline.
This scientific breakthrough launched the era of synthetic organic chemistry. In 1859 Geigy chemists synthesized their first synthetic dye, fuchsine. J. R. Geigy financed the construction of a
dye plant operated by his former sales associate J. J. Muller. Muller had won awards for creating “Vert Usebe”, a shade which became fashionable at the court of Empress Eugenie of France.
Muller also produced mauve and magenta. Geigy purchased this operation in 1862.
Geigy recognized that a research organization was needed to continuously expand his business with new dyes. The chemist Traugott Sandmeyer was hired in 1888 to head the research
division and the Geigy firm soon won recognition as a major dye producer in Europe. Plants were established in France, Germany and Russia. Sales offices were setup in India, New York,
Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.
The firm became a stock company in 1901. The parent firm in Switzerland was named J. R. Geigy S.A. in 1914.
Sales in the U.S. were handled by the Geigy Aniline & Extract Co., which purchased the business of John J. Keller & Co. , a New York dealer in aniline dyes, in 1903. The Keller firm had been
selling dyes, sumac and nutgall extracts made by the Geigy plant in Basel since 1870. In 1904 the Niagara Wine Company, Jersey City was purchased and the building and machinery were
converted to making aniline dyes. In 1910 the Geigy ter Meer Company, with offices at 89 Barclay St. in Manhattan, was established to succeed the Geigy Aniline & Extract Co. Geigy ter Meer
became known in 1916 as the Geigy Company, Inc. with Robert J. Keller (1860-1938) as president and Walter Saenger as first vice president and treasurer.
After World War I, the U.S. Congress imposed stiff tariffs on imported dyes and chemical intermediates to foster the growth of the
domestic colorants industry. In 1920 the Basel Community of Interests (Basel C. I.), representing the Swiss chemical companies Ciba, Geigy and Sandoz, decided to establish a company in the
U.S. to avoid the high tariffs and participate in the growing demand for domestic dyes and pigments. In 1920 the Swiss conglomerate purchased the colorants business of the Ault & Wiborg Co.
which had plants in the Norwood and St. Bernard areas of Cincinnati, Ohio. The new U.S. company was called the Cincinnati Chemical Works. Although Ciba, Sandoz and Geigy had the
Cincinnati Chemical Works as a common source for their dyes, they sold their domestically produced and imported dyes independently. Each firm had its own sales office in New York City.
In 1934 the company closed its antiquated factory and warehouse in Jersey City and purchased the Duryea Manufacturing Co. building located on Avenue C, near West 2nd Street, in Bayonne.
Duryea had manufactured varnish and printers' specialties. The building was of concrete construction with 55,000 sq. ft. floor space and a rail siding. Geigy converted the plant to manufacture
a range of auxiliary chemicals used as processing aids in the textile, leather and paper trades. An insecticidal research and testing laboratory was built next to the plant in 1936.
One of the most important chemicals produced at the Bayonne plant was Mitin, a durable mothproofing agent for wool that was patented in 1939; the chemical name is sodium 5-chloro-2-[4-
chloro-2-[[[(3, 4-dichlorophenyl)amino]carbonyl]amino]phenoxy] benzenesulphonate. The presence of the sulfonic acid group gave Mitin water solubility so it could be applied to wool
simultaneously with an acid dyestuff. The product was sold as Mitin FF.
The sulfonic acid group bound Mitin to wool as firmly as the dye itself. The mothproofing affect remained even after repeated laundering or dry cleaning of the treated garments. Mitin disrupted
the production of the enzyme moths needed to digest keratin, the protein component of wool. It was non-toxic to humans.
The chemical synthesis of Mitin started with the reaction of phenol and sulfuric acid to form 2-hydroxybenzenesulfonic acid. 2,5-Dichloroaniline was added to form 2-amino-4-chloro-2'-
sulfodiphenyl ether. In a separate step 3,4-dichloroaniline was reacted with phosgene to produce 3,4-dichlorophenyl isocyanate (DCPI). In the last step DPCI was combined with the diphenyl
ether to make Mitin.
Also in 1939 Geigy research chemist Paul Müller established the potent insecticidal property of DDT (1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane or more commonly dichloro-diphenyl
trichloroethane). During World War II military regulations kept much information about DDT a secret. Geigy provided some facts in mid-1944. DDT was first synthesized in 1874 by a young
German chemistry student, Othmar Zeidler. It was briefly reported in the Proceedings of the German Chemical Society. When Muller discovered the insecticidal uses of the compound, Geigy
gave the Swiss Federal Experiment Agricultural Station a formulation of DDT known as Gesarol. This led to the control of the destructive potato beetle.
In 1942 Geigy informed the U.S. Military Attache in Berne that the Neocid formulation of DDT was very effective against the typhus carrying louse. At the same time Geigy notified the U.S.
subsidiary of its discovery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture verified Geigy's claims and the manufacture of DDT was started at the Cincinnati Chemical Works in May, 1943. The Cincinnati
Chemical Works provided 60 percent of the military's requirement while the balance was made by three other companies. DDT eradicated the typhus epidemic in Naples. Paul Müller was
awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948 in recognition of DDT’s role in reducing insect-borne diseases world-wide.
DDT enabled Geigy to enter the completely new market of agricultural chemicals and gave it a 10-15 year advantage over its competitors. In the early 1950s Geigy built a plant on a 1,500 acre
site in McIntosh, Alabama for the production of DDT, benzene hexachloride (BHC), other pesticides and later agricultural chemicals such as herbicides.
In 1950 the Bayonne research laboratory on West 2nd Street was headed by technical director George R. Ferguson, with a staff of eight chemists, four entomologists, and six technicians. The
library had 500 volumes.
The Geigy expertise in synthetic organic chemistry, which grew from its dyestuffs knowhow, extended to pharmaceuticals. The Pharmaceutical Division was formed in 1947. After a difficult
start, the ethical drug business grew with products such as Panparnit, a treatment for Parkinsonism; Eurax, a scabicide and antipruritic; Tromean, for anti-coagulant therapy; and Butazolidin,
for specific forms of arthritis.
In 1948 the Alrose Chemical Company, which had a plant in Cranston, Rhode Island was acquired by Geigy. The Cranston plant manufactured auxiliary chemicals for the textile, soap and
cosmetic industries. Additional products made there included Tinon vat dyes for cotton, pigments for textile printing, Tinuvin UV absorbers, anti-oxidants, and pharmaceuticals.
Geigy responded to the introduction of synthetic fibers with dyes specifically engineered for them. The Irgalan range of neutral premetallized dyes, stemming from the discovery of chemist
Guido Schetty, was introduced in the early 1950s for nylon fiber. The Maxilon range was introduced for acylic fibers such as Orlon. Tinopal optical brighteners had applications in whitening
textiles and paper.
After World War II, vat dyes became the fastest growing segment of the dye industry. These dyes, used mainly for cotton dyeing and printing, had extraordinary fastness properties. The Swiss
partners Ciba, Geigy and Sandoz faced limited capacity in the aging Cincinnati Chemical Works plant. The Toms River Chemical Company was formed and a world-scale plant for vat and azo
dyes was constructed at a 1,250 acre site in Toms River, New Jersey, which came on stream in 1952. Ciba had a 52 percent share of the joint venture, with the remaining share split between
Geigy and Sandoz.
Geigy also outgrew its American headquarters in Manhattan. In 1956 the company moved to a newly built complex of office and laboratory buildings, including a pilot plant, at a 35-acre site on
Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, New York. The U.S. company was now called Geigy Chemical Corporation with four divisions including the Agricultural Chemicals, Dyestuffs, Industrial
Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Divisions. There were now 40 Geigy companies globally with total employment over 8,000.
By 1966 the Bayonne plant, located at 39 Avenue C, employed 100 persons, but the capacity was inadequate. Geigy purchased a 27 acre site for a new plant on Hook Road for $189,000 at a
public auction. The site was a municipal garbage landfill, which Geigy moved to another location in Bayonne. The new 140,000 sq. ft., two-story plant came on stream in 1968. It was designed
for the blending, storage and shipment of powdered dyes from Geigy's imported and domestic sources.
In 1971 Geigy merged with Ciba to form Ciba-Geigy Ltd., a leading biological and chemicals group with markets in health care, agriculture and industry. The U.S. dye industry underwent
considerable changes beginning in the mid-1970s due to global competition and the new EPA regulations. Sandoz dropped out of the Toms River Chemical joint venture and built its own dye
plant in Martin, South Carolina. The major U.S. producers Allied Chemical, GAF, American Cyanamid and DuPont all exited the dye business by 1980. The Ciba-Geigy plant in Toms River had to
shutdown dye production in 1988 due to severe environmental impacts to the surrounding community. The Cranston plant was closed in 1986. The Bayonne plant was also shutdown.
In 1996 Ciba-Geigy and the pharmaceutical division of Sandoz merged and formed Novartis, one of the world’s largest life sciences groups. As a result of this merger, the specialty chemicals
divisions were spun off as Ciba Specialty Chemicals Inc. in 1997. The textile effects business of Ciba Specialty Chemicals, including the remaining dyes and auxiliary chemicals, was sold to
Huntsman Chemicals in 2006. Today the global leaders of the dyestuff industry are no longer the Swiss, German and U.S. companies, but companies in China and India.
1) "Geigy's First 200 Years", American Dyestuff Reporter, June 16, 1958, pp. 430-431
2) "Greater New York", American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 43, 1903, p. 21
3) Annual Report, New Jersey Bureau of Industrial Statistics, 1904, p. 534
4) "Obituary: Robert J. Keller", American Dyestuff Reporter, February 21, 1939, p. 115
5) "The Story of DDT", American Dyestuff Reporter, June 19, 1944, pp. 282-283
6) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. V, D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1954, p. 176
7) "Geigy Opens New Dyestuff Facility in New Jersey", American Dyestuff Reporter, November 18, 1968, pp. 43-44
8) Barry Facter, "Geigy Expansion to Add Jobs in City", Bayonne Times, August 24, 1966
9) "Geigy Awards Contracts for Plant Construction", Bayonne Times, October 19, 1966
10) Thomas A. Unger, Pesticide Synthesis Handbook, Willian Andrews Inc., 1996, p. 256
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Abe Reife for contributing valuable historical information about the Ciba-Geigy Corporation.
|Johann Rudolph Geigy (1733-1793) and Family
Image: http://www.novartis.ch. Click to Enlarge.
|Geigy Works in Basel-1900
Image: http://www.novartis.ch. Click to Enlarge.
|Geigy-A Historic Dyestuffs Company
By Robert J. Baptista, updated October 13, 2009
Adapted in part from "Geigy's First 200 Years", American Dyestuff Reporter, June 16, 1958, pp. 430-431
|Geigy Dyestuffs Plant in Bayonne, NJ. Photo: American Dyestuff Reporter, 1968
|Over 6 Million Lbs. of Finished Dyes Were Blended Annually in the 59,000 Sq. Ft.
Production Area of the Geigy Plant in Bayonne. Photo: American Dyestuff Reporter, 1968
|Dyes, Pigments and Auxiliary Chemicals Were Warehoused in This 60,000 Sq. Ft. Shipping and
Receiving Area of the Geigy Plant in Bayonne. Drums Stacked 5 High on Steel Racks Were Located in
Less Than 3 Minutes Using a Computerized Coding System. Photo: American Dyestuff Reporter, 1968
|Geigy Eriochrome Dyes on Wool, ca. 1930
Click to Enlarge
|The Ciba-Geigy Plant in Toms River, NJ. The Dye Production Buildings in Background Were Built in 1952.
Photo: "On-Stream", Ciba-Geigy, December 1984, Click to Enlarge
Copyright © 200-2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
The Geigy Company established its first plant in Bayonne in 1934 at
Avenue C and West 2nd Street. The location is outlined in blue in the
lower right of this aerial view of Bayonne looking southwest to the
Bayonne Bridge. Photo: Library of Congress, 1985. Click to enlarge.
|Geigy Ad-Setacyl Dyes for Acetate Silk and Blends
American Dyestuff Reporter-1926. Click to Enlarge.
|Paul Muller, 1948 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine for
Discovering the Pesticide Properties of DDT
Chemical Structure of Mitin FF, Geigy Mothproofing Agent
|Left: Geigy Dye Swatch Books, ca. 1930s-1950s, Illustrate a Vast Range of Dyes for Textiles.
Center: Geigy Carpet Dye Sample Box, ca. 1950, Displays Shades for Wool/Nylon Carpets. Photograph by
Gregory Tobias, Courtesy of Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections, Philadelphia, PA.
Right: Issues of Technica, the Geigy Research Magazine. Click to Enlarge Images.
The Author Donated This Collection to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia.