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The emergence of research laboratories in the dyestuffs industry, 1870–1900

  • Anthony S. Travis, Willem J. Hornix, Robert Bud and Ernst Homburg (a1)

The focus of this paper is the emergence of the research laboratory as an organizational entity within the company structure of industrial firms. The thesis defended is that, after some groundwork by British and French firms, the managements of several of the larger German dye companies set up their own research organizations between the years 1877 and 1883. The analysis of the emergence of the industrial research laboratory in the dyestuffs industry presented here makes clear that both the older study on the subject by John J. Beer and a later paper by Georg Mseyer-Thurow contain some serious defects. Beer, like so many other authors of the 1950s who studied the ‘marriage’ between science and industry during the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, incorrectly correlates the engagement of university-educated chemists with the rise of industrial research. The appointment of academic chemists by BASF and Hoechst at the end of the 1860s, for instance, was described as ‘the…acquisition of a research staff’. This reveals a misunderstanding of the roles of chemists within the nineteenth-century chemical industry. University-trained personnel were, in fact, working in industry as early as the start of the nineteenth century. However, they were employed as managers, works chemists and analysts, and only exceptionally in research.

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An earlier version of this paper was presented to the autumn meeting of the Genootschap voor Geschiedenis der Geneeskunde, Wiskunde, Natuurwetenschappen en Techniek, The Hague, 25 October 1986. I am grateful to Henk van den Belt, Casper Hakfoort, Peter Morris, Tony Travis and two referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I would like to thank my colleague Willem Hornix for the generosity with which he placed several sources at my disposal, and the archivists of BAYER AG (Leverkusen), BASF AG (Ludwigshafen), and HOECHST AG (Hoechst a/M) for responding to my questions and for the access they provided to the documents under their care.

1 Beer J. J., ‘Coal tar dye manufacture and the origins of the modern industrial research laboratory’, Isis (1958), 49, 123–31, especially 124–5. For the historiography and theoretical implications of the concept of a ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, in relation to the rise of industrial research, see Homburg E., ‘De “Tweede Industriële Revolutie”. Een problematisch historisch concept’, Theoretische Geschiedenis (1986), 13, 367–85.

2 Meyer-Thurow G., ‘The industrialization of invention: a case study from the German chemical industry’, Isis (1982), 73, 363–81.

3 Reich L. S., The Making of American Industrial Research. Science and Business at GE and Bell, 1876–1926, Cambridge, MA, 1985; Hounshell D. A. and Smith J. K. Jr, Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R & D, 1902–1980, Cambridge, MA, 1988. Other publications on the emergence of industrial research laboratories in the US include: Reich L. S., ‘Industrial research and the pursuit of corporate security: the early years of Bell Labs’, Business History Review (1980), 54, 504–29; Wise G., ‘A new role for professional scientists in industry: industrial research at General Electric, 1900–1916’, Technology and Culture (1980), 21, 408–29; Wise G., Willis R. Whitney, General Electric, and the Origins of U.S. Industrial Research, New York, 1985; Hoddeson L., ‘The emergence of basic research in the Bell Telephone System, 1875–1915’, Technology and Culture (1981), 22, 512–44; Sturchio J. L., ‘When industrial research was young. Chemistry and corporate strategy at Du Pont’, Research Management (1984), 27, 1015 and 18. These studies are discussed in two essay reviews: Dennis M. A., ‘Accounting for research: new histories of corporate laboratories and the social history of American science’, Social Studies osf Science (1987), 17, 479518; and Smith J. K. Jr, ‘The scientific tradition in American industrial research’, Technology and Culture (1990), 31, 121–31.

4 Meyer-Thurow, op. cit. (2). Other recent studies on industrial research include: Schubert H., ‘Emergence of industrial research’, in History of Solid State Physics (ed. Hoddeson L., Braun E., Teichmann J. and Weart S.), New York, 1987; Bowker G., ‘Recherche industrielle et industrialisation de la recherche’, Culture technique (1988), 18, 146–53; and Bindon G. and Miller D. P., ‘“Sweetness and Light”: industrial research in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, 1855–1900’, in Australian Science in the Making (ed. Home R. W.), Cambridge, 1988, 170–94.

5 Apart from Meyer-Thurow's paper, studies of the German dyestuffs industry that pay attention to the internal company organization are rare, and not very informative with respect to the emergence of the research laboratory. The few examples are: Kaku S., ‘The development and structure of the German coal-tar dyestuffs firms’, in Development and Diffusion of Technology, Electrical and Chemical Industries (ed. Okochi A. and Uchida H.), Tokyo, 1980, 7794; and Liebenau J., ‘Corporate structure and research and development’, in The Challenge of New Technology. Innovation in British Business Since 1850 (ed. Liebenau J.), Aldershot, 1988, 3042.

6 An example is offered by the 1863–64 contract of the chemist E. Ullrich at Kalle, who could only work in the laboratory, and was not allowed to enter the production rooms. Voelcker H., 75 Jahre Kalle. Ein Beitrag zur Nassauischen Industrie Geschichte, 1863–1938, Wiesbaden (1938), 70. For a more general account of the work of chemists in the German, French and British dye industries, see Homburg E., ‘De inschakeling van chemici in de kleurstofindustrie’, in De ontwikkeling van de kleurstofindustrie (ed. van den Belt H. et al. ), University of Nijmegen, 1984, 107–63.

7 Compare the very strict contracts that the laboratory chemists of the Oehler company had to sign in the early 1880s. ‘Vor Vierzig Jahren’, Chemiker-Zeitung (1922), 22, 525–6.

8 Laboratories, as such, are an old phenomenon within the chemical industry. The earlier literature did not differentiate carefully enough between ‘laboratories’ and ‘research laboratories’. For a good overview of the wide range of laboratory types inside and outside industry, see Visser R. P. W. and Hakfoort C. (eds.), Werkplaatsen van wetenschap en techniek. Industriëls en academische laboratoria in Nederland, 1860–1940, Amsterdam, 1987 (= Tijdschrift voor de geschiedenis der geneeskunde, natuurwetenschappen, wiskunde en techniek (1986), 9(4)).

9 I restrict my analysis to university or polytechnic chemists, which is permissable in the German case. Next to them there were also assistants on lower levels of the hierarchy, for instance laboratory boys.

10 Apart from the published histories and some archival documents mentioned here, my analysis is to a great extent based on a large data base of biographies of several hundred German industrial chemists (see especially the chemists named in Tables 1 and 3). The membership lists of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft and obituaries published in the Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, the Chemiker-Zeitung and the Zeitschrift für angewandte Chemie were my most important sources.

11 One could even argue, and the examples given seem to support this view, that not one, but perhaps three or four assistants were necessary before the companies used the term ‘research laboratory’. In my opinion the creation of a hierarchy in the organization of research work is, however, the most crucial step. But care is required.

12 Typically, this ‘inventions-laboratory’ was under Edison's direct control. It was not owned by the Edison Electric Light Company, formed in 1878, or its successor, the General Electric Company, formed in 1892. There was no direct historical connection between Edison's laboratory and the corporate research laboratory finally set up by General Electric in 1900. Wise (1980), op. cit. (3); Wise G., ‘The first corporate R & D organization’, Chemtech (1987), 17, 394–6; Reich (1985), op. cit. (3), 42–5 and 6073.

13 Homburg E., ‘The influence of demand on the emergence of the dye industry. The roles of chemists and colourists’, Journal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (hereafter JSDC) (1983), 99, 325–33; Travis A. S., ‘Perkin's mauve: ancestor of the organic chemical industry’, Technology and Culture (1990), 31, 5182.

14 From the biographies of Brown and Williamson it can be concluded that Williamson was ‘a’ successor of Brown (he was appointed to a vacant position). It is not certain whether he was Brown's direct successor. On Brown, see Journal of the Chemical Society (hereafter JCS) (1894), 65, 382–3; and on Williamson see JCS (1915), 107, 590–2.

15 A clear illustration of this situation is offered by the fact that William H. Perkin's (second) alizarin patent of November 1869 (British patent no. 3318), was licensed by him to his own company (Perkin & Sons). Cliffe W. H., ‘Pacta Conventa – the last days of Perkin & Sons’, JSDC (1957), 73, 318–22.

16 The first ‘research chemists’ at the Atlas Dye Works were R. J. Friswell (1874–77?), R. Meldola (1877–85) and A. G. Green (1885–94). In the 1860s, Simpson, Maule & Nicholson – the predecessor of Brooke, Simpson & Spiller – employed several chemists, who took out patents (e.g. D. S. Price, c. 1858–62 and F. Field, 1862–66), but very little is known about their place in the company organization. See ‘Richard John Friswell’, JCS (1909), 95, 2204–6; ‘Raphael Meldola’, JCS (1917), 111, 349–59; Fox M. R., Dye-Makers of Great Britain 1856–1976, Imperial Chemical Industries, Manchester, 1987, 104–10 and 114–15.

17 Chemists at Roberts, Dale & Co. included H. Caro (1859–66), A. S. Leonhardt (c. 1860 and c. 1864–67), C. A. Martius (1863–65) and L. Schad (c. 1864–73) (all Germans). See: (on John Dale), JCS (1890) 57, 446–8; Fox , op. cit. (16), 125–7, 131–2 and 249; and Travis A. S., ‘Heinrich Caro at Roberts, Dale & Co.’, Ambix (forthcoming).

18 Reference to this research laboratory is made in the Annuaire du commerce. Didot-Bottin, Paris, 1865. It was situated at 18 rue des Marais, Saint-Germain. I thank Henk van den Belt for providing me with access to this source. To my knowledge, this constitutes the oldest example of the mention of the term ‘(industrial) research laboratory’!

19 This diagram is based on a large number of sources, the most important of which are the biographies of several chemists; the Guides Indicateurs and Annuaires of Lyon and Paris (1855–70); Bouvier J., Le Crédit Lyonnais de 1863 à 1882: Les années de formation d'une banque de dépôts, 2 vols., Paris, 1961; and Cayez P., Crises et croissance de l'industrie Lyonnaise, 1850–1900, Paris, 1980. See also Henk van den Belt, ‘Why monopoly failed: the rise and fall of Société La Fuchsine’, in this issue.

20 See the literature cited in note 3.

21 For the history of the German patent law, and its relation to the chemical industry, see Fleischer A., Patentgesetzgebung und chemisch-pharmazeutische Industrie im deutschen Kaiserreich (1871–1918), Stuttgart, 1984; and van den Belt H. and Rip A., ‘The Nelson-Winter-Dosi model and synthetic dye chemistry’, in The Social Construction of Technological Systems. New Directions in the Sociology of Technology (ed. Bijker W. E., Hughes T. P. and Pinch T. J.), Cambridge, MA, 1987, 135–58, especially 149–55.

22 The life and work of Caro are well documented. His laboratory notebooks, both from his British years and his time at BASF, are preserved in the BASF Archives, Ludwigshafen, and at the Deutsches Museum, Munich. For biographies, see Bernthsen A., ‘Heinrich Caro’, Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft (1912), 45 (II), 19862042; Schuster C., ‘Heinrich Caro’, in Ludwigshafener Chemiker (ed. Oberdorffer K.), Düsseldorf, 1960, ii, 4583; Schuster C., ‘Heinrich Caro. Aus Anlass seines 50. Todestages am 10. September 1960’, Tradition, Zeitschrift für Firmengeschichte und Unternehmerbiographie (1961), 6, 4964.

23 Quoted from Wiedemann E., ‘Die Konstruktion der richtigen Formel. Strukturaufklärung und Synthese des Indigblau dargestellt an Hand der Briefwechsel Baeyer-Caro’, Ph.D. diss. T. U. Munich 1978, ii, 292. See also, C. Schuster, Wissenschaft und Technik. Ihre Begegnung in der BASF während der ersten Jahrzehnte der Unternehmensgeschichte, Ludwigshafen, 1976 ( = Schriftenreihe des Unternehmensarchivs der BASF Aktiengesellschaft, vol. 14), 36–7.

24 Compare the correspondence between H. Caro and W. H. Perkin, 1871–73, Deutsches Museum, Munich (Sonder-Sammlung, hereafter SSDM), transcribed in Vaupel E., ‘Carl Graebe (1841–1927) – Leben, Werk und Wirken im Spiegel seines brieflichen Nachlasses’, Ph.D. diss. Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, 1987, ii, 629733; C. Glaser, ‘Erlebnisse und Erinnerungen nach meinem Eintritt in die Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik im Jahre 1869’, MS written in 1921, BASF Archives, pp. 35–6, 38, 43, 51; and Schuster, op. cit. (23), 80.

25 Glaser , op. cit. (24), 1434.

26 Richard Wienandt, a pupil of Hermann Kolbe. My analysis of the expansion of Caro's laboratory – and of the emergence of the other laboratories at BASF – is mainly based on the MS ‘Chemiker der BASF, 1865–1896’, BASF Archives. In this document – written in phases (and in different handwriting) between about 1884 and 1900 – some 166 chemists who entered the Ludwigshafen works between 1865 and 1896 are mentioned. With a few exceptions (for instance Félix Duprey, who in 1868 was the manager of the aniline dye department), this book seems to be almost complete. The chemists working in the Stuttgart factories of BASF are, however, not mentioned.

27 Wiedemann, op. cit. (23), passim.

28 Dr Friedrich Köhler, a ‘type D’ laboratory chemist, in my classification. The discussion that follows is based on my analysis of the MS ‘Chemiker der BASF’, op. cit. (26).

29 In a letter dated 18 November 1877, Peter Griess wrote to Heinrich Caro that he was very jealous of Caro, because of this new position, SSDM No. 1894. Cf. Schuster , op. cit. (23), 85–7.

30 For the history of this laboratory, see C. Schuster, ‘Die Geschichte des Hauptlaboratoriums der BASF von 1868–1938’, typescript dated June 1958, BASF Archives.

31 Schuster, ibid., 8.

32 Schuster, ibid., gives a later date (1894). My date is based on the MS ‘Chemiker der BASF’, op. cit. (26).

33 Glaser , op. cit. (24), 1434.

34 Glaser, ibid.; Schuster, op. cit. (30); Bernthsen A., Fünfzig Jahre Tätigkeit in chemischer Wissenschaft und Industrie, Leipzig/Berlin, 1925, 39; Borscheid P., Naturwissenschaft, Staat und Industrie in Baden (1848–1914), Stuttgart, 1976, 174–7. An attempt to engage Emil Fischer failed in 1883. Cf. Schuster , op. cit. (23), 99105.

35 Bernthsen , op. cit. (34), 35–7; Schuster, op. cit. (30); Schuster , op. cit. (23), 106. Borscheid's interpretation that the ‘creation’ of the Hauptlaboratorium in 1889 was the resuit of a growing cooperation between scientists and engineers is not based on any factual evidence. Borscheid, op. cit. (34), 177.

36 Luck E., ‘Methode der Antracenbestimmung’, Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft (1873), 6, 1347–8. For an account of the work in the chemical laboratories of Meister, Lucius & Brüning, during the early period, see ‘Aufzeichungen von Dr. Lucius und seine Mitarbeitern (1863–1874)’, Hoechst Archives.

37 The assistants of Lucius were, according to my classification, laboratory chemists of type A. See ‘Aufzeichnungen von Dr. Lucius’, op. cit. (36); Fischer E., ‘Meister, Lucius und Brüning, die Gründer der Farbwerke Hoechst AG’, Tradition (1958), 3, 6578, especially 66.

38 In a letter dated 12 October 1984, W. Metternich of the Hoechst Archives answered my queries concerning fifty-four chemists who worked at Hoechst between 1863 and 1890. In twelve cases no data at ail could be found. In nearly ail the other cases the personnel files did not contain any details on the kind of chemical work that a chemist carried out, or on his place in the organization. The recent book by E. Bäumler – Farben, Formeln, Forscher, Hoechst und die Geschichte der industriellen Chemie in Deutschland, Munich and Zurich, 1989 – gives no detail with respect to the organization of research.

39 In 1880, Hoechst employed twenty-five works and laboratory chemists. The laboratory chemists were assisted by twenty-five laboratory boys and other workers.

Grandhomme W., ‘Die Theerfarben-Fabriken der Herren Meister, Lucius & Brüning zu Höchst a. Main in sanitärer und sozialer Beziehung’, Vierteljahrsschrift für gerichtliche Medizin und öffentliches Sanitätswesen (1880), n.s. 32, 120–5, 280320, and (1880), n.s. 33, 78–126, especially 32, 123; Grandhomme W., ‘Bericht über die Krankenbewegungen auf den “Farbwerken” vorm. Meister, Lucius & Brüning in Höchst a.M. pro 1880’, Correspondenzblatt des niederrheinischen Vereins für oeffentliche Gesungsheitpflege (1881), 10, 99108, especially 100; Farbwerke vorm. Meister, Lucius & Brüning 1863–1913, Höchst, n.d., 18–19.

40 Biography of Eugen Fischer, Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft (1918), 51, 14; letters of A. Baeyer to H. Caro, dated 5, 12 and 14 July 1880, see Wiedemann , op. cit. (23), ii, 180–3.

41 See the biographies of T. Diehl, B. Homolka and A. Herrmann.

42 Farbwerke vorm. Meister Lucius & Brüning, op. cit. (39), 20.

43 Biographies of E. von Gerichten, H. Reissenegger and A. Laubenheimer; Ehrhardt G., ‘One hundred years of research’, in A Century of Chemistry (ed. Bäumler E.), Düsseldorf, 1968, 273337, especially 274–80; Einführung der Serologie in Hoechst durch Prof. August Laubenheimer, Höchst, 1968 (= Dokumente aus Hoechster Archiven, vol. 35), 7–9, 24–9, 80–1.

44 ‘Wissenschaftliches Laboratorium’, drawing and ground-plan, n.d., Hoechst Archives; Graepler C., ‘Industriebauten der Hoechster Farbwerke im ersten Jahrhundert ihres Bestehens’, Jahrbuch Marburger Universitätsbund, 1963, 137–52, especially 142–5.

45 Hickel E., ‘Die industrielle Arzneimittelforschung am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts und die Durchsetzung einer reduktionistische Biologie’, in Materialistische Wissenschaftsgeschichte: Naturtheorie und Entwicklungsdenken, Berlin, 1981 ( = Das Argument – Sonderband AS 54), 132–54, especially 137–40.

46 For instance the ‘theoretische Chemiker’ at BASF.

47 For BASF, see ‘Chemiker der BASF’, op. cit. (26); for Hoechst, see Grandhomme W., Die Theerfarben-Fabriken der Actien-Gesellschaft Farbwerke vorm. Meister Lucius & Brüning zu Höchst a.M, in sanitärer und sozialer Beziehung, 2nd edn, Heidelberg, 1883; on AGFA a paper by the author is in preparation. On AGFA, Hoechst and the Swiss firm of Bindschedler & Busch (CIBA), see also the contemporary investigation by H. E. Roscoe published in the Second Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction, London, 1884, i (= Parliamentary Papers, vol. XXIX), and (partly) in the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry (1882), 1, 251–2.

48 Meyer-Thurow , op. cit. (2), especially 369–70. On the new laboratory, built berween 1889 and 1891, see ‘Das wissenschaftlich-chemische Laboratorium der Farben-fabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co. zu Elberfeld’, Chemiker-Zeitung (1893), 17, 191–7; and Armstrong H. E., ‘The appreciation of science by German manufacturers’, Nature (1893), 48, 2934.

49 Biography of Schultz Gustav, Zeitschrift für angewandte Chemie (1922), 35, 172–5.

50 Schultz G., Die Chemie des Steinkohlentheers, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der künstlichen organischen Farbstoffe, Braunschweig, 1882.

51 Dr E. I. Erdmann. The names of two other early research assistants (1884) are known – Dr F. Streng and Dr A. Hagen - but their biographies are obscure.

52 G. Schultz, ‘Arbeiten des Versuchslaboratorium in dem Jahre 1887’, manuscript dated 21 March 1888; G. Schultz, ‘Bericht über die im Versuchslaboratorium in dem Jahre 1888 ausgeführten Arbeiten’, and the other yearly reports written by Schultz 1889–94. Bayer Archives, 5/E.a.26.

At the Hauptlaboratorium of BASF the situation was very similar. See Bernthsen, op. cit. (34), 39: ‘Statt in den Betrieben Anregungen über die Bedürfnisse des Geschäfts zu erhalten, wurde ich für diese Anregungen auf das Studium der Patentanmeldungen der Konkurrenz verwiesen.’

53 Research for AGFA was done by Professer O. Wallach in Bonn (who had been a chemist in the factory in 1871) and by Professor C. Liebermann and the Privat-Dozenten O. Doebner and E. Jacobsen in Berlin. In the period 1877–83 the patents resulting from their discoveries were frequently taken out in Martius’ name (and not in the name of the Company). See ‘[Jahresbericht] an den Aufsichtsrach der Actiengesellschaft für Anilinfabrikation in Berlin [für 1881]’, MS dated 18 March 1882, Bayer Archives, 5/E.a.13; and ‘[Jahresbericht] an den Aufsichtsrath der Actiengesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation [für 1885]’, MS dated March 1886, Bayer Archives, 5/E.a.40.

54 I have not elaborated on this subject here. For general information, see Schuster, op. cit. (23); and Borscheid , op. cit. (34), 135–57.

55 For the salaries, see ‘Gehalter-Kontierung 1884’, Bayer Archives, 126/1; for the royalties, see ‘Farben-Fabrikation und Production’, vol. 1 (1867–1930), therein ‘Notizen von Carl Duisberg’, MS 31/12/1884, Bayer Archives, 111/2.

56 ‘Bau-Konzession Laborgebäude, 1889–1921’, Bayer Archives, 5/E.a.21.

57 Schwarz H., ‘Der Studiengang für technische Chemiker’, Die Chemische Industrie (1878), 1, 353–6 (354). Schwarz could only be referring to the companies of AGFA, BASF and Meister, Lucius & Brüning. The AGFA Company, however, ccrtainly had no research laboratory at that date (November 1878). It is doubtful if Schwarz had enough information on the internal affairs of these three dye companies. In my opinion, the most probable explanation is that Schwarz mentioned these companies because BASF, AGFA and Hoechst were the first Germany dye companies that obtained patents on coal-tar dyes as follows:

The patent no. 4322 was not invented but only filed by AGFA. The inventor was the chemist Oscar Doebner, who worked in the laboratory of A. W. Hofmann at the University of Berlin.

58 Gumprecht O., Wie studirt man Chemie und die beschreibenden Naturwissenschaften? Mit Berücksichtigung der sächsischen, preussischen und baierischen Prüfungsordnungen, Leipzig, 1885, 28–9.

59 See also Wunder G., Die Vorbereitung für den Eintritt in die chemische Technik. Eine Schrift zur Orientierung für künftige Techniker, nebst Beschreibung des neuen Laboratoriums der technischen Staatslehranstalten in Chemnitz, Chemnitz, 1879, 11; and Friedlaender P., Fortschritte der Theerfarbenfabrikation und verwandter Industriezweige 1877–1887, vol. 1, Berlin, 1888 (reprinted 1920), pp. iii–iv.

60 There were actually only twenty-four different persons, since Eduard Hepp was counted twice. Hepp started his industrial career as a research assistant to Heinrich Caro in the research laboratory of BASF. In 1879 he went to Oehler, where he was appointed a research chemist and later the leader of a research group. He succeeded A. Winther in 1884 as director of the research laboratory of the Kalle company. In 1895, he moved to the research laboratory of Hoechst, but not, this time, as the head of that department.

61 At BASF, five out of seven theoretical chemists and/or research leaders were recruited from outside the Company. The only two chemists who were promoted from another post within the company to the position of independent research chemist (Dr Friedrich Köhler and Dr Georg Conrad Schraube), had both previously been assistants in Caro's Hauptlaboratorium.

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