Prohibition Brewed Dyes and Drugs
The late 1800s was the golden age for American breweries with close to 4,000 breweries in operation across America. Temperance groups, however,
alarmed by the social unrest brought to the United States by the influx of alcohol-imbibing immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, pressed for a
ban on alcohol, hoping to return social order to their communities. The onset of World War I further fueled anti-German, and thus anti-brewing, sentiment.
Groups such as the National Prohibition Party, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Anti-Saloon League succeeded in pressing for legislation
banning the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol.
The United States Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917. After approval by 36 states, the 18th Amendment was ratified on
January 16, 1919 and became law on January 16, 1920. Many breweries had closed earlier- by 1918 there were only 1,000 breweries left and by the time
Prohibition took effect two years later, there were half that number. Hard liquor distilleries also closed.
The remaining breweries survived by making non-alcoholic near beer, soft drinks, ice cream, candy or yeast. Some surviving breweries had diversified
their holdings and investments prior to Prohibition and had a cushion of cash. Anheuser Busch used the refrigerated trucks they had invented for
transporting beer to ship the ice cream they now manufactured. Pabst made malt syrup, which was widely purchased in grocery stores to make home brew.
But other opportunities arose for the beverage makers. The World War I dye famine, caused by the British blockade of German shipping, prevented the
importation of dyes. Dye prices soared and U.S. manufacturers, including small entrepreneurial firms and large corporations like DuPont, quickly setup
dye-making facilities to capitalize on the emerging opportunity. Breweries could either enter the dyes manufacturing field themselves or sell their closed
facility to investors seeking to enter the dye or even pharmaceutical markets with a plant requiring only a few modifications.
Breweries and distilleries had a significant technology advantage since they were basically chemical plants with process equipment and infrastructure
readily adaptable to synthetic organic chemicals. They had an ample supply of clean water, storage tanks, fermentation tanks, stills, filter presses, pumps,
steam boilers, cooling capacity, warehouses, laboratories and chemists. The multi-story arrangement of the brewery process, enabling gravity feed of one
step to the next, was similar to the layout developed by the German dye makers:
The azo dye process began with raw materials at the top of the building, where the diazo step was made in a small tank, and moved downwards by gravity
to the coupling step in a larger tank where the dye was formed, and finally to a filter press, for isolating the wet dye cake, both located on the ground floor.
One of the modifications necessary to switch from beer making to dye manufacture would be adding a cover and an agitator, driven by an overhead belt at
the time, to convert the cypress wood lager tanks to dye coupling tanks:
Other necessary changes would be the installation of shelf dryers, grinders and blenders to produce the finished dyes. This equipment could be easily
placed in the idle warehouse of the former brewery.
|"Prohibition Brewed Dyes and Drugs"
By Robert J. Baptista, updated June 27, 2009
Wood Lager Tanks Could Be Modified for Dye Manufacture. Photo: Library of Congress
One of the first breweries to convert to dye manufacturing in World War I was the Lion Brewery located at 140-156 West 108th Street in New York City. The
new company was called Noil Chemical and Color Works. The Noil name was derived by spelling Lion backwards. The brewing operation was restricted to
Frederick E. Grant was vice president. The general manager was Franklin P. Summers, a chemist and former executive of the short-lived Federal Dyestuff
and Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. Summers was also research director of a staff of four chemists.
The Noil Company produced a line of direct, developed, acid, and chrome colors. There was a good range of dyes for cotton: Direct Black RXX, RE, and
GXX; Developed Black BH; and Direct Blue 2B and 2BX. In 1925 Noil announced it was the sole American producer of Direct Fast Scarlet 3B, noted for its
brilliance, white discharge upon reduction, and good fastness properties. This dye was especially suited for tin weighted silk. In 1926 Direct Brown CN
was produced and recommended as a self-color and for dyeing cotton-wool union fabrics. Direct Brown G was introduced and was said to be equivalent to
the prewar Benzo Brown G from Germany.
Noil had a small sales staff but like most dye makers at the time, relied mainly on an outside sales agency. Several Noil dye swatches are displayed in the
trade ads below:
A fire, caused by a firecracker tossed from an elevated railway, caused $250,000 in damage to the brewery in 1927. Most of the near beer, stored in the
cellar, was salvaged. Repairs were made and near beer and dye production continued.
Another New York brewery that converted to dye manufacture was the F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company, which had built a brewery in Brooklyn at South
9th Street and Kent Avenue in 1915-1916. With Prohibition looming, Rudolph J. and F. M. E. Schaefer prepared for the change by organizing the Kent
Color Corporation in 1918 with $25,000 capital. When Prohibition was enacted in 1920, the brewery made dyes and near beer in order to survive. Methyl
violet base and toner were among the dyes produced. Ice was made for use in the diazotization step of dye making and for sale.
Nuyens & Co., a Bordeaux based maker of vermouths, brandies, cordials, and other liqueurs, was established in 1802.
Nuyens had a beverage business in the U.S. but it had to be abandoned due to Prohibition. One of these investments was a distillery established in 1914
on West 52nd Street in Bayonne, New Jersey. Albert J. Farmer, a New York financier with a background in wholesale liquor, held a 40 percent interest in
Nuyens and was a vice president and director of the company. In 1919 he met with Dr. Eugene A. Markush, who had formed the Pharma Chemical Company
in Bayonne in 1917, to discuss the sale of the distillery. Markush at the time was operating a small pharmaceuticals plant near 45th Street and was eager to
expand. With financial help from Farmer and other Nuyens investors, Pharma Chemical Corporation was established and took over the distillery and its
equipment. Francois E. Nuyens was on the board of directors of the new company along with Edmund Knecht, a British textile dyeing expert.
The first products made were creosote and guaicol carbonates, expectorants with some antiseptic properties. The pharmaceutical line included salophen
and phenacitin, which had analgesic and fever-reducing properties, in addition to the sleeping aids sulfonal and trional. But imports of pharmaceuticals
from Germany and Switzerland, along with the startup of larger drug makers in the U.S., convinced Pharma Chemical to switch to dye manufacturing in the
While some breweries converted to dye manufacture, traditionally established dye manufacturing plants attracted Illegal distillery operations. At the
defunct Central Dyestuff & Chemical Company in Newark, Federal agents discovered an alcohol still operating in 1930. There were six wooden vats of
20,000 gallons capacity each. Five vats contained a corn syrup mash and the sixth vat contained yeast. Four 5,000 gallon stills, with thermostatic
regulation, were capable of producing 20,000 gallons of high proof alcohol daily. The still operator was arrested.
An illegal alcohol distillery was raided by Federal agents at the Heller & Merz dye plant in Newark in 1931. The unit was valued at $500,000 of which
$240,000 represented equipment and supplies. It had been operating for seven months, producing 12,000 gallons of alcohol, valued at $35,000, daily. The
distillery had been receiving carloads of molasses from Puerto Rico, delivered to the rail siding adjoining the plant. A pipeline was used to pump the high
grade alcohol into railroad tank cars. No arrests were made since the plant siren was sounded with five blasts as soon as the Federal agents walked
through the main gate.
Despite the Phohibition ban on alcohol, people who wanted to drink could get bootleg liquor like moonshine or visit "speakeasy" taverns run by the Mob.
The growth of organized crime and the loss of tax revenue convinced the government to repeal Prohibition in 1933.
The Noil Chemical and Color Works business was acquired by the Calco Chemical division of American Cyanamid on December 1, 1932. The specialized
Noil line of dyes was a good fit with the Calco line. Dye production was transferred to the large Calco plant in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Arthur L. Benkert
and several other former Noil managers formed the Young Aniline Company to make dyes in Baltimore. The Lion Brewery resumed beer making and
operated until 1942. The brewery was demolished in 1944. American Cyanamid quit the dye business in 1980.
In 1933 the Kent Color business was also sold to the Calco Chemical and Schaefer returned to brewing beer in its Brooklyn facility. This brewery, one of
the last in New York City, closed in 1976.
Pharma Chemical became a successful dye producer and merged with intermediates manufacturer Verona Chemical of Newark in 1957. In the same year
the merged company was acquired by Bayer. Later the name Verona Dyestuffs Corporation was adopted. This company eventually became part of DyStar,
a joint venture of Bayer and Hoechst that is now privately owned. DyStar makes dyes in a facility in Bushy Park, South Carolina.
1) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. III, (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1945–54), p. 236
2) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. V, (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1945–54), p. 176
3) Rubin Rabinowitz, personal communication, February 2005
4) "American-Made Colors", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 11, No. 11, November 20, 1922, pp. 373-374
5) Beverage history website: http://www.rustycans.com/month0604.html. Accessed August 21, 2005
6) Tom Pendergast, "Beer", http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_tov/ai_2419100107/pg_2/?tag=untagged, accessed June 14, 2009
|Lion Brewery, New York City 1857-Converted to Dye Manufacture During Prohibition Era. Image Courtesy of www.rustycans.com
American Dyestuff Reporter-1925. Click to Enlarge
|Schaefer Brewery in Brooklyn Made Dyes During Prohibition Era. Photo: Library of Congress, 1948
|Pharma Chemical Corporation,169 W. 52 Street, Bayonne, NJ ca. 1920s. The Onset of Prohibition
Resulted in Conversion of the Original Distillery to Pharmaceutical and Dye Manufacturing in 1919.
|View of Dye Coupling Tanks of Pharma Chemical ca. 1930. The Autoclave in
Upper Left Was Part of the Nuyens Distillery in 1914.
Copyright © 2009 by ColorantsHistory.Org. All Rights Reserved.
|Left: Nuyens Liquers Ad. Source: Annuaire du Commerce Didot-Bottin, 1878
Right: Nuyens Menthe Poster by Leonetto Cappiello, 1902. Image Courtesy of B. Skilbeck, PosterClassics.Com
|Fire Damaged the Lion Brewery/Noil Chemical and Color Works in 1927
Image: Fire Engineering, July 1927