I) Parkersburg, West Virginia
The synthetic dye industry in West Virginia began with the efforts of the chemist Victor G. Bloede (1849-1937). Bloede was born in Germany and received a C. E. degree from the Cooper Union
Institute at the age of 18. In the early 1870’s, he operated a small chemical plant in Brooklyn along the Gowanus Creek. In 1873 Bloede moved to Pomeroy, Ohio, the center of salt
manufacturing along the Ohio River. Bromine was distilled from the waste liquors and sold to German aniline dye manufacturers. At Parkersburg, West Virginia Bloede joined the Oakes &
Rathbone Company which produced sulfuric acid for the bromine distillers in the region. Mr. Oakes left the firm in 1875 and Bloede acquired his interest, the company becoming known as
Bloede & Rathbone. The plant was on the south side of the Little Kanahwa River near the juncture with the Ohio River. The product line was extended to iron sulfate, iron nitrate, tin salts,
mordants and other chemicals used mainly by the textile industry. Bloede’s familiarity with the textile industry led to the idea of manufacturing aniline dyes to increase profits. At the time most
dyes were imported from Germany. There were only two companies producing dyes in the U.S.: the Schoellkopf Aniline & Chemical Company in Buffalo and the Albany Aniline & Chemical
Bloede was determined to manufacture aniline by nitrating benzene to form nitrobenzene, followed by reduction. The first problem he faced was to purify benzene from the light tar oils, supplied
in barrels by coal tar distilleries and gas plants. Lacking a distillation column, he used an old boiler shell connected with a condensing coil but the benzene quality was poor. Bloede then
consulted with a distillation expert, James A. Moffett, who was operating the Camden branch of the Standard Oil Company of Parkersburg, and who would later become an executive of
Standard Oil. Moffett was convinced that dye manufacturing could be very profitable and invested money in Bloede & Rathbone. Dye manufacturing was organized as a separate entity named
the “American Aniline Works”.
The principals of the new company had no dye making experience so they read German texts on the subject. They erected a plant in Parkersburg near the Little Kanawha River, not far from its
junction with the Ohio River. There was no money left for new equipment, so scrapped equipment was obtained from the Standard Oil junk pile. Instead of a heavy cast iron nitrator, an old boiler
shell with a capacity of 1,000 gallons was fitted with a central shaft of horizontal wrought iron paddles. Bloede had respect for the dangers of nitration reactions, having blown off the roof of his
Brooklyn factory while making nitrous ether. He therefore erected the rudimentary nitrator in a deep gully remote from the main building. The valve regulating the flow of acid into the nitrator
was operated by a wire several hundred feet away. The operator would periodically run just close enough to the nitrator to read the thermometer and dash back to safety. Cooling was
accomplished by running cold spring water over the top and sides of the nitrator, keeping the reaction within a range of five degrees Fahrenheit. This procedure resulted in 7,000 to 8,000
pounds of nitrobenzene per batch.
The next step was the conversion of the nitrobenzene into aniline by reduction with iron filings and acid. The crude reactor consisted of a section of a large cast-iron water main, encased in
brick and fired by coal. This was connected to a wrought iron pipe condenser. The reactor had a horizontal shaft and paddle, but it did not work properly, resulting in a low yield of distilled
Marketing the aniline was difficult. There was little demand and the German product could be imported at low cost. Some aniline was sold to the Schoellkopf firm, but they could name their own
price. Bloede then decided to convert the aniline into the higher priced and more profitable dyes. He placed an ad in the trade papers of England and Germany, soliciting an experienced dye
chemist to serve as a consultant in manufacturing magenta and Nicholson blue. This effort was futile so Bloede and Moffett had to rely on the knowledge of dye manufacturing that they gleaned
from books. They hired a young man named Frank Shuman, who was working in a grocery store and had no technical training, but proved to be a genius in dye manufacturing. Shuman read the
various texts on dye manufacture and helped the company begin the production of fuchsin. This was based on the original method of heating aniline with arsenic acid. Shuman subsequently
left the company and later became famous as an engineer and inventor.
In 1877 the plant was completely destroyed by fire. A larger, higher capacity plant was built including a separate branch for the production of sulfuric acid. The manufacturing complex
eventually employed 300 workers, mostly Poles and Germans.
Over the next few years, the American Aniline Works produced about 150,000 pounds of aniline and 20,000 pounds of fuchsin. The fuchsin was sold both in the granulated version as well as the
crystallized (purified) form. The venture was never profitable and the plant was destroyed in the spring of 1884 by a flood of the Little Kanawha River after heavy rainfall. The stock of fuchsin
tinted the turbulent waters a beautiful raspberry shade for many miles, down to Cincinnati, to the amazement of onlookers along the river shore.
Click on Photos to Enlarge
|Parkersburg Topographical Map Showing Standard
Oil Refinery Along Little Kanwha River-1899
Junction of Ohio River and Little Kanawha River at Parkersburg
in1861. Bloede Plied the Rivers on His Steam Yacht The Victor.
Frank Shuman, Inventor
II) Nitro, West Virginia
During World War I the government built an $80 million complex in Nitro to manufacture explosives and chemicals for the war effort. The site was located on an 1,800-acre cow pasture on the
Kanawha River, a tributary of the Ohio River. It was in the center of the coal districts between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The complex, built by the best engineering talent in the U.S., was
constructed in just eleven months. Up to 30,000 construction workers were there at one time. The site had just been placed in operation when the war ended in November 1918. The first
shipment of powder was also its last. Local authorities then recruited various chemical companies to occupy the facility which had excellent infrastructure in utilities, transportation and new
housing for workers. It was hoped that the former powder city would become a major manufacturing center for the emerging dye industry in the U.S.
The Nitro Products Corporation, founded in Saginaw, Michigan, came to Nitro in 1920. The company occupied a large part of areas B, E and F and made alterations to the nitration building to
produce the intermediate H-acid. This intermediate was the key raw material for over 60 dyes and was in urgent demand at the time. Most of the original equipment in the building was
removed and new tanks, sulfonators and filter presses, taken from other parts of the complex, were installed. H-acid was produced in September 1920 by sulfonation of napthalene, followed
by nitration and then chemical reduction by iron borings and acid. The production rate was expected to reach 4,000 pounds per day. The company planned to manufacture its own nitric and
sulfuric acids by the end of 1920. About 100 men were employed.
In December 1921, the Seydel Manufacturing Company, a New Jersey firm, merged with Nitro Products. The Seydel firm was mainly involved with pharmaceutical products and built a benzoic
acid plant at Nitro. The process involved the oxidation of toluene with nitric acid and produced the dangerous TNT as a byproduct. The plant, employing 12 men, was managed by Dr. A. A.
Swanson who had worked in Nitro during the war. He was succeeded by Jim Seydel. In 1928 an autoclave exploded, killing an employee. The plant reopened with P. W. Tingley as plant
manager and employed 20 in the manufacture of pharmaceutical chemicals. In 1932 a disastrous fire shut the plant down permanently.
The Southern Dyestuffs Company, originally established in Newark, New Jersey, also located in Nitro in 1920. It occupied five of the solvent recovery buildings and planned to produce 160
chemical intermediates for the dye industry. Employment was estimated at 200 operators. The plant, managed by Carl L. Masters, began manufacturing dye intermediates such as beta
naphthol. This was produced by sulfonation of napthalene followed by fusion with caustic soda. Larger producers of intermediates had lower selling prices, so Southern Dyestuff switched to
phenol production. In 1927 Rubber Service Labs purchased the business and the name changed to Elko Chemical Company. In 1929 the company was acquired by Monsanto.
III) South Charleston, West Virginia
|Ernest C. Klipstein (1851-1923)
Photo: American Dyestuff Reporter. Click to Enlarge
Ernest C. Klipstein , of Orange, New Jersey, was a principal in several chemical companies and distribution firms during the World War I era. He was a partner in the Warner-Klipstein Chemical
Company, founded in South Charleston in 1915 to produce caustic soda and chlorine from local salt brine. The caustic was needed for the sulfur black dye market and the chlorine was used to
make carbon tetrachloride, a popular cleaning fluid and component of fire extinguishers until banned years later due to human health effects. Warner-Klipstein became part of Westvaco
Chlorine Products in 1929, which was acquired in 1948 by the Food Machinery Corporation, later know as FMC.
Prior to World War I, Klipstein imported German and Swiss dyes. The dye famine during the war led him to start manufacturing the dyes desparately needed by his customers. Along with his
sons, Klipstein organized the E. C. Klipstein & Sons Company and opened the first plant in Chrome (Cartaret), New Jersey in 1915. Eager customers would wait outside the plant gate and
purchase dyes in unfinished form. Additional plants were then opened in Edgewater and Bayway, New Jersey and Custer City, Pennsylvania.
The South Charleston dye manufacturing plant was established in 1916. In 1925 the decision was made to consolidate the company plants in the larger facility in South Charleston. The New
Jersey plants employed about 200 men and some of these and their families transferred to South Charleston. New buildings were erected at South Charleston and equipment was transferred
from the New Jersey plants (except Edgewater).
The production of fast color salts, which were diazo compounds stabilized with aluminum chloride, was a specialty of the company. The textile companies combined these salts with naphthol
derivatives to produce fast, bright azoic colors directly on the cotton fiber. The South Charleston plant also manufactured sulfur black (from its own dinitrophenol), sulfur blue and brown
shades, benzopurpurine, direct dyes, chrome dyes, and formic acid. The availability of formic acid gave dyers a safer alternative to acetic and sulfuric acids.
The company was one of the first manufacturers of vat dyes in the U.S. Their sublimed synthetic anthraquinone was considered the best quality in the world. Beta methylanthraquinone, for vat
blue, was also made.
The dyes were sold through the sales agency A. Klipstein & Co. of New York City.
E. C. Klipstein & Sons was purchased in 1933 by the Calco Chemical Company, a subsidiary of American Cyanamid. The sale price was $1.0 million. The company employed 100 in South
Charleston at the time. The plant eventually closed and production shifted to the large Calco Chemical plant in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Kenneth H. Klipstein and Ernest H. Klipstein
transferred to Calco Chemical as executives.
IV) Huntington, West Virginia
1) Lamie Chemical Company
Few records remain concerning this small dye producer. At the Chemical Exposition in New York City in 1920, Lamie Chemical displayed samples and fabrics dyed with Violamine 2R and 2RB,
Malachite Green and Flamingo Red. Its sales agency was the Mathieson & Atkinson Company of New York City. The Lamie Chemical Company is believed to have gone bankrupt around 1924.
2) Standard Ultramarine & Color Company
This highly successful pigment and dye manufacturer was founded in Huntington in 1912 by Omar T. Frick and Henri Dourif. The plant is still operating today as BPS Printing Systems,
producing alkali blue for printing inks. It is the oldest continuously operating colorants plant in the U.S. A detailed history of the plant is available at the Standard Ultramarine & Color Company
Although most of the dye industry in West Virginia was short-lived, the early companies set the stage for the development of the chemical industry along the Kanawha River. The availability of
raw materials, low cost electric power, good transportation systems and skilled labor was a strong incentive for the industry to locate there. The region became one of the largest producers
of chemicals in the U. S with major corporations such as Monsanto, FMC, Du Pont and Union Carbide. Some of these plants have now closed, but the Du Pont plant in Belle is still operating
today along with Dow Chemicals and Bayer Crop Science which acquired the former Union Carbide facilities in South Charleston and Institute.
1) Victor G. Bloede, "Some Early Attempts to Establish the Aniline Industry in United States", Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Vol. 16, No. 4, April 1924, pp. 409-411
2) Victor C. Bloede, The Journey: Victor G. Bloede His Forebears & Successors, Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD, 1996
3) "Notes of the Trade", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 10, No. 7, March 27, 1922
4) William D. Wintz, Nitro The World War I Boom Town, (South Charleston, WV: Jalamap Publications, 1985), p. 89
5) "Branch Plants Moved Here By Chemical Firm", The Charleston Daily Mail, January 19, 1925
6) "Klipstein Plant Is Sold To Calco", The Charleston Daily Mail, August 8, 1933
7) "Dye Plant At Nitro Now In Full Swing", The Charleston Daily Mail, September 10, 1920
8) "Dye Exhibits At The Chemical Exposition", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 7, No. 13, September 27, 1920, pp. 14-15
9) "Ernest Christian Klipstein", American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol. 12, No. 10, May 7, 1923, pp. 374-375
10) "Lamie Chemical Company", Chemical Age, Vol. 29, No. 10, 1921, p. 438
11) "Klipstein Pioneer In Dye Industry", The Charleston Daily Mail, June 23, 1929
12) "Spills of Carbon Tet Nothing New To FMC", The Advocate (Newark, OH), March 14, 1977
13) Williams Haynes, American Chemical Industry, Vol. I, (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1945), p. 303
ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Dr. Dieter Lange for contributing valuable information about Victor G. Bloede.
West Virginia Dye Industry
|Nitro Explosives Plant in Background-1918
Worker Housing in Foreground
Photo: The Putnam Democrat. Click to Enlarge
|Ads for Klipstein Dyes (American Dyestuff Reporter 1925). Click to Enlarge
|Klipstein Trade Ad
Includes "Kanawha" Dyes-1919. Click to Enlarge
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