|H. Kohnstamm & Co. Location at No. 3 Tryon Row, New York City, 1853-1869
Photo: Haynes and Gordy, Chemical Industry's Contribution to the Nation: 1635-1935
This building was replaced by the Municipal Building in 1914. Click Here for 3D Aerial Photo of Site Today
The Kohnstamm family had a long history in the colorants industry, going back to the production of ultramarine pigment in Europe in the 19th century. A major application of this pigment was
for laundry bluing which gave the effect of whitening dingy fabrics. In 1851 two cousins, Hesslein and Heiman Kohnstamm, founded H. Kohnstamm & Co. near the lower tip of Manhattan. In
1853 the business occupied a storefront on Tryon Row, opposite City Hall. The company imported ultramarine in addition to English, French, and German colors, paints, artists' materials,
bronzes and metals.
E. G. Kohnstamm became the first laundry supply salesman for the firm in 1867. In the 1870's a white chip soap and cleaning powders were introduced. The business was moved to larger
quarters on Chambers Street:
Before 1880 confectioners typically used dry paint or technical colors for food coloration. This resulted in some poisoning cases for consumers of colored candy. Kohnstamm introduced the
idea of producing safe and standardized colors. Dr. H. Endemann, who studied under the eminent German coal-tar chemist Hoffman, was engaged to develop suitable colors. These colors
were approved at the National Confectioners' Association convention in 1884.
France was one of the first countries to ban harmful food colorants. In 1882 many compounds were prohibited for use in food or even food wrapping paper: inorganic pigments containing
copper, lead or arsenic and organic dyes such as fuchsine, eosine and nitro derivatives such as Victoria yellow. But the U.S. government was slower to enact similar regulations. During the
Spanish-American War, there was a shortage of food colorants; industrial pigments were used, leading to many deaths. Kohnstamm later helped shape federal food and drug regulations
concerning safe colors. E. G. Kohnstamm was instrumental in establishing the company as an innovator in the confection industry with the development of the safe colors.
The company setup an office at 83-91 Park Place, New York and a plant at 537 Columbia Street in Brooklyn, employing 40 men. Well-equipped research laboratories were established at the
Manhattan location for new product development and quality assurance. When World War I started, H. Kohnstamm added soluble prussian blue, insoluble prussian blue and chinese blue to
their product line. They also made high-class colors for automotive bodies.
Total domestic production of ultramarine was 2.7 million pounds in 1914. Heller & Merz of Newark was the largest producer, followed by H. Kohnstamm. A newcomer to the ultramarine field,
Standard Ultramarine, began operating in 1912 in Huntington, West Virginia.
In June 1918 plans were made to erect a one-story reinforced concrete warehouse, with 6,000 square feet of space, at the corner of Creamer and Columbia Streets. The building cost $20,000.
After World War I the product range was diversified to include flavors, extracts, essential oils, and other ingredients for the food and beverage industry. The company was incorporated in 1922
with E. G. Kohnstamm, president; Joseph Kohnstamm, treasurer; Lothair Kohnstamm, vice president; William Longfelder, vice president; and Max Wallenstein, secretary.
H. Kohnstamm was an original formulator of paste colors, used where necessary to keep the color in position as it is being worked into food or candy. Paste colors are preferred in
applications where using a water based product is undesirable. Pastes are usually made with FD&C dyes that are blended with glycerin, propylene glycol, dextrose and sometimes gums. They
were sold under the Atlas Color trade name. These colors, which include Brilliant Sky Blue, Brilliant Lemon Yellow, and Brilliant Crimson Red, became standards in the industry. In addition, the
company developed two unique forms of titanium dioxide: Kowet™and Atlas White™. Kowet is the water dispersible form and Atlas White is the oil dispersible form.
In 1957 Paul Kohnstamm, a member of the fourth generation founding family, was president. By 1959 H. Kohnstamm products were widely used in soaps, foods, cosmetics, plastics, and
medicines. The company had plants in Clearing , Illinois (near Chicago) and New Jersey (Camden, Kearney and Newark) in addition to Brooklyn. The Newark facility was the former General
Color Company plant.
The company experienced a setback in 1976 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned Red No. 2, a food dye in use for 68 years. This was the most heavily used food dye in the U.S.
with applications in hundreds of products such as soft drinks, candy, ice cream and cosmetics. The FDA said a rat feeding study suggested that Red No. 2 was a weak cancer-causing agent.
The company had an alliance with Benzenoid Organics in Bellingham, Massachusetts, likely for the supply of dye intermediates. There was also a manufacturing facility in Montreal and an
affiliate company in the United Kingdom in the 1980s-1990s. Paul Kohnstamm continued his interest in the UK company under the directorship of Timothy Hicks. For years, Victor Kohnstamm
ran an offshoot of the company in Mexico known as H. Kohnstamm de Mexico.
H. Kohnstamm & Co. was acquired in 1988 by Sensient Technologies Corporation and the Brooklyn plant was subsequently shutdown. Just before his retirement in 1991, Dr. Samuel
Zuckerman, longtime head of research, received permission from the company to work with Joseph E. Levine and his makeup artists on the new film "Tattoo" starring Bruce Dern and Maude
Adams. Dr. Zuckerman continued to refine the unique body-art formula invented for paint-on temporary tattoos with his son Roy Zuckerman, who founded Temptu, which exists today. Temptu
has provided memorable, temporary, FDA-safe tattoos for "Cape Fear", "The Sopranos", fashion shows, etc.
1) "Dyestuffs and Chemicals That Are Actually Obtainable", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 1, No. 7, November 19, 1917, p. 15
2) Williams Haynes and Edward L. Gordy, Editors, "The Development of Certified Pure Food Colors" by H. Kohnstamm & Co. Inc., Chemical Industry's Contribution to the Nation: 1635-1935 (New
York: Chemical Markets, 1935), pp. 32-33
3) William M. Freeman, "The Helping Hand in Many Products", The New York Times, August 22, 1959
4) "Ban on Red No. 2 Coloring Takes Effect", The Syracuse Herald-Journal, February 12, 1976
5) James DeLisi, personal communication, July 12, 2005
6) International Foodcraft Corporation website, http://www.hjaa.com/color_guide.html, accessed December 2, 2005
7) Sensient Technologies website, http://www.sensient-tech.com/cosmetics_sku_color/titanium_dioxide_overview.htm, accessed December 2, 2005
8) "Poisonous Coloring Matters in Food", The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 14, 1882, p. 255
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Mr. Roy Zuckerman for his contribution to the this history. We thank Mr. Frank H. Jump for allowing the use of his haunting images of the H. Kohnstamm plant.
H. Kohnstamm Brooklyn Plant Location
|H. Kohnstamm & Company
|H. Kohnstamm & Co. Store at No. 126 Chambers Street, 1872-1895
Photo: Haynes and Gordy, Chemical Industry's Contribution to the Nation: 1635-1935. Click to Enlarge
FD&C Red No. 2 Dye
|Atlas Colors Food Dye Tin Labelled Oroline Yellow
Photo: Courtesy of Bill Bossemeyer. Click to Enlarge
|H. Kohnstamm & Co. Ad Showing Brooklyn Dye Plant
Image: Year Book of the Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter, 1918
|Derelict H. Kohnstamm Plant, Red Hook, 1999.
Photo Courtesy of Frank H. Jump, Copyright; Used with Permission
|Ad for Reckitt's Blue Ultramarine, Made in England, Which Competed with H. Kohnstamm's Product. Click to Enlarge.
Photo Taken at 622 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn in March 1997. View Re-Obscured by New Building in April 2004.
Photo Courtesy of Frank H. Jump, Copyright; Used with Permission.
|Recent Photos of the Long-Closed H. Kohnstamm Plant Show Grafitti. The Images Sadly Represent the Decline
of the U.S. Dye Industry and the Disappearance of Jobs for Manufacturing Chemists. Click on Photos to Enlarge.
Photos Courtesy of Frank H. Jump, Copyright; Used with Permission.
|H. Kohnstamm & Co. Envelope, Postmarked November 25, 1907
at New York, On the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II Bound for Germany.
Envelope Kindly Contributed by Michael Stein. Click to Enlarge.
Copyright © 2005-2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|H. Kohnstamm & Co. Letter Opener Celebrating 90th Anniversary 1851-1941
Kindly Contributed by Ted Griggs