A History of Specialty Chemicals

The speciality chemical industry was born by accident by William Henry Perkin who discovered the first aniline dye, the purple mauveine, while searching for a way to make synthetic quinine to treat malaria. Since Perkin’s was working at the Royal College of Chemistry under August Wilhelm von Hofmann when he made the discovery, he started making the dye which he discovered would dye fabric in a stable way in his garden with the help of friends so that he could separate his work efforts from his private encounters. Perkin filed for a patent for his invention in August 1856 when he was just 18 years old. His invention started the speciality chemical company. 

Perkin and his invention, however, were not without their growing pains. After all, scaling up production from a garden operation to a commercial entity was expensive, so Perkin did what many young people do today and convinced his Dad and his uncles that his invention was worth investing in. Despite the fact that a manufacturer of cotton clothes in Perth, Scotland, was excited about the invention, he had trouble getting other manufacturers that his invention was worth pursuing, so he went on to show manufacturers how derivatives of his invention could be used to dye cotton fabric. It was not, however, that Queen Victoria in England and by Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, in France started wearing beautiful hoop skirts dyed with Perkin’s invention that his venture became commercially successful.

Soon other manufacturers started copying Perkin’s idea giving birth to Badische Anilin and Soda Fabric (BASF) and other companies in Germany. While his ideas spread a little bit to Switzerland, the start of World War I forced Americans to hate anything from Germany and made it hard for suppliers to get supplies from the country that the speciality chemical industry was born in the United States.

Before World War I, in 1901, John Francis Quency who had worked in the nascent pharmaceutical industry for 30 years used his own money to found a fledgling company naming it Monsanto after his wife. He soon had the foresight to go to Germany convincing Doctor Louis Veillon to move to the United States. This move was imperative to building the company because Veillon already knew how to make saccharin. Quency then convinced food manufacturers in the United States to use his product as a cheaper alternative about the same time World War I broke out.

By 1920, there were enough speciality chemical manufacturing companies in the United States that the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association was formed on September 15, 1921, at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. The express purpose of this organization was to increase public confidence in their industry and to influence lawmakers. Despite a name change to Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates on March 19, 2009, that is still the goal of the organization today.

Those present at the first meeting elected Doctor Charles Herty as their first leader. Herty was already instrumental in changing the turpentine industry around the world, and he had helped form the first varsity football team at the University of Georgia. While speciality chemical manufacturers already had high esteem with many lawmakers, Herty was able to further cement those relationships under President Hoover who was a strong advocate for the industry. Herty was also able to convince many in academia that speciality chemicals were important.

The Future Of Specialty Chemicals

What started out as an experiment in William Henry Perkin’s garden has grown into a $900 billion industry today. The industry will continue to evolve well into the future as company’s create new chemicals to meet the demands of companies and consumers everywhere. We are proud to be part of the United States speciality chemical market by providing agitators, liquid agitators and mixers needed to use those chemicals