1917 Making Dyes

DuPont studied the dye business for several years before making a major commitment in 1917. The dye shortage became a national emergency after the United States entered the war that year. DuPont, the nation’s leading chemical manufacturing and chemical research company, committed its resources to meet the need and built its Jackson Laboratory at Deepwater, N.J., to conduct dye research.Show more

DuPont Company Chambers Works, Deepwater, New Jersey

Diamond Dyes advertising card

DuPont was interested in diversifying and dye chemistry was similar to the chemistry of nitrocellulose explosives. Also, the onset of World War I in 1914 created shortages of superior, German-made dyes, including those needed for DuPont products like Fabrikoid artificial leather and Pyralin plastics. British companies provided some information about German formulas and manufacturing processes, but producing quality dyes proved more difficult than expected. When the war ended, the company recruited German scientists to assist the work at Jackson Laboratory. Though progress remained slow and expensive – it took 10 years to show a modest profit–DuPont developed a first-rate organic chemistry research capability along the way that eventually paid high dividends. By the mid-1940s, two-thirds of the company’s Organic Chemicals Department’s products were directly traceable to prior dye-related research.

 

DuPont entered the dyes and dyestuffs business because, as luck or nature would have it, both explosives and synthetic dyes posed similar organic chemistry challenges. When World War I cut off access to diphenylamine, a chemical component of smokeless powder, DuPont was forced to build its own plant. Diphenylamine also was used in the production of dyes, which had been manufactured mainly in Germany. DuPont took the opportunity and stepped into the breach, building on British expertise and, after the war, the help of German scientists. Ten years of endeavor, however, demonstrated that entering a new market wholesale was far too complicated—a more promising solution was to acquire existing firms and improve their products and processes. The first such acquisition came in 1930 with the purchase of the Newport Chemical Company, which provided talented researchers and the formula for Jade Green dye.

 

DuPont’s hard work on the organic chemistry of dyes paid multiple dividends. In 1931, after 10 years in operation, the Dyestuffs Department at Deepwater, N.J., became the Organic Chemistry Department. By the mid-1940s, two-thirds of Orchem’s products were directly traceable to prior dye-related research. The dye business itself was less successful. DuPont’s dye-related profits peaked in the 1950s and then slumped in the mid-1960s, due in part to competitors utilizing newer technology. DuPont responded by building an automated plant in Puerto Rico during the 1970s, but raw materials shortages and increasing energy and regulatory costs proved too costly. DuPont closed the Puerto Rico plant in 1980 and abandoned the dye business.

 

DuPont purchased the Newport Chemical Company of Carrollville, Wis., in 1931 for $10 million in DuPont stock to acquire the company's dye-making and research expertise. Newport Chemical's exclusive U.S. license to manufacture a popular European-made dye named Jade Green proved especially valuable to DuPont, though Newport also possessed outstanding capabilities in manufacturing a variety of organic chemicals. Newport Chemical was absorbed into DuPont's Organic Chemicals Department, where many former Newport researchers made significant contributions to DuPont's dyestuffs research at the Jackson Laboratory. Others, such as Swiss-educated Ivan Gubelmann, helped advance DuPont's wider organic chemicals business and became part of the company's management. DuPont's acquisition of the Newport Chemical Company proved to be one of the most fruitful the company ever made.