The beginnings of a specialty chemicals company
Übersetzt von Myrna Lesniak
Only those who are sure of their origin can know their destination. True to this principle, Anna Bálint for the first time presents the history of Clariant, the globally operating chemical company which was formed by a merger of Sandoz and Hoechst. Eyewitness accounts complete the portrait and give an informative as well as entertaining insight into the demanding task of successfully melding two distinct corporate cultures into a single strong and innovative enterprise.
Anna Bálint studierte Betriebswirtschaft, Geschichte und Europäische Ethnologie und promovierte 1997 in Kunstgeschichte. Sie ist als Autorin, Beraterin und Kunstexpertin tätig und legt großen Wert auf interdisziplinäre Zusammenhänge. Bei ihren Buchprojekten führt sie alle konzeptionellen, inhaltlichen und gestalterischen Schritte selbst durch. Sie hat sich insbesondere auf dem Gebiet der kritischen Auseinandersetzung mit der gegenwartsnahen Unternehmensgeschichte etabliert.
Anna Bálint studied Business Administration, History and European Ethnology and earned her doctorate in Art History in 1997. As an author, consultant and art expert, she values interdisciplinary relationships. When working on a book project, she performs all the conceptual, content and creative steps by herself. Anna Bálint has gained particular renown in the field of critical examination of contemporary corporate history.
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The globalisation of dyeing:
How the dyeing trade developed
The art of dyeing can be traced back to the Stone Age. The red-brown paintings of animals in the caves of Lascaux in the south of France dating from between 17,000 and 15,000 BC and the similar motifs of the rock paintings in Altamira in Spain are living witnesses to the prehistoric use of dyes and pigments. Archaeologists found bandages dyed blue, red and yellow on mummies in their 5,000-year-old graves in the Egyptian pyramids, too. The Etruscans, Greeks, Romans and other Mediterranean peoples were also familiar with a large number of dyes and techniques. There was a wide range of colours and from time immemorial our forefathers made use of a variety of raw materials from nature-plants, various types of wood, minerals or animal extracts.
The lotus tree and the madder root were used for red dye. Purple tones were achieved with the aid of litmus, walnut shells and pomegranate blossoms; the 'royal colour' purple derived from the snails of the genus murex had a special significance. Indigo and dyer's woad were suitable as a blue dye. The unassuming mignonette plant, also known as dyer's rocket, grows on rubble heaps and at the wayside. Its seed vessels and the saffron crocus produced a strong yellow.
In the beginning, dyeing materials were collected in the countryside and used for dyeing at home but over time it became customary to grow the dye plants oneself. In the biography of Charlemagne, written after his death in 814, it was reported that he strongly advised growing madder: a Mediterranean plant used in dying, which had been brought over the Alps to Northern Europe by Benedictine monks. A wall hanging from around 1070, known as the Bayeux Tapestry, owes its great value both as a historical document and a work of art to its colour fastness. The hanging is an embroidered picture story depicting the Norman conquest of England. The embroidery is in coloured wool, which has hardly faded even to the present day. The professional dyeing of textiles such as wool, linen, cotton and silk was provided by cloth makers. It was the Flemish in particular who plied this early craft and who were well-known for the high quality of their trade. Their work was first mentioned in documents in Vienna in 1208. The increase in finery meant that the guild of tailors became more and more important and from a historical point of view the proverb 'Clothes make the man' is less likely to be a cliché but rather a confirmation of the trade's importance.
From 1400 the dyers began to form independent guilds. As the individual processes in dyeing, i.?e. washing, bating, rinsing and dying depend on water, the trade settled near flowing water. 'Blauhandgasse,' a street in Frankfurt, is thought to be one such site.
On account of their botanical and animal origins, textiles contained residual substances from the manufacturing of the fibres which made the materials look grey and yellowish. This meant that they needed to be bleached before being dyed. The bleachers-a specialist branch of the dyeing trade-mostly spread the textiles on the municipal bleaching green. Bleaching was effected by the sun and, depending on the type of weave, various aids such as sour milk, potash and water were added in turn; however, it could take weeks of treatment for the textiles to reach the degree of whiteness desired. Smoothing, i.?e. pressing the bleached or dyed linen, was also part of the dyeing trade. It was to be some centuries before the dyers were in a position to avoid the time-consuming bleaching on the green and the arduous smoothing and replace these with efficient finishes.
Hides which had been tanned to make leather and then dyed were very popular at royal courts in the Middle Ages. Horse tack, shoes, and robust clothing were fashioned from coloured or gilded leather. Books, too, were given prestigious bindings, especially in sumptuous red. The leather from the Moroccan town of Fez was particularly valued for its suppleness and its uniform colouring. Even today tanneries there still use the old, traditional, energy-sapping methods: young men full the leather in large, brick vats filled with tanning agents, water and dyes.
In the Western World, mediaeval illuminations were based on brazilin, the dye from redwoods. Its origin was in East India and it was very much in demand. It reached Europe via the Silk Road before America was discovered. In the 16th century dye-producing woods were among the most coveted imports from the New World-the South American country of Brazil gets its name from the brazilwood. A fall in the price of basic foods and an increase in real wages in Europe in the late Middle Ages encouraged the specialised growth of plants suitable for dyeing and trading. Consequently, supra-regional markets emerged for a limited number of popular, high-quality plants for the natural dyeing process. Needless to say, their transport, even over large distances, was worth the effort.
The comparatively high capital requirements could only be met with investments by merchants, who not only organised distribution but controlled the entire supply chain of the dye business. However, these agricultural production systems were unstable: When the price of a dye decreased, this could not be cushioned by innovations as there was no mechanism for developing new technologies. As a result, quality gradually deteriorated to reduce production costs, which, in turn, completely ruined any sales opportunities. By the end of the 17th century, the most important, marketable dyes of European origin-dyer's woad, dyer's rocket and safflower which is also known as false saffron, with the one exception of madder-had been ousted by non-European products: principally indigo, dye-woods and cochineal, the dried form of a scale insect which breeds on cacti.
In the medium term favourably priced Central American woods which could be easily felled became a key product on the European mass textile market. On the other hand, dyers not only made use of the European madder but also resorted to cochineal from Central America for high quality shades of red. Cochineal production was, unlike all the other major export articles from Latin America, in the hands of the indigenous population. The main reason for this was that hardly any economies of scales could be realized by producing cochineal on a large scale.
Due to the conquistadors, trade with the dried bodies of cochineal scale insects spread throughout Europe, too. At first, cochineal was used primarily in the dyeing of textiles, but soon it was used in cosmetics, too. In the Baroque period it was to be found on the colour palette of such artists as Jacopo Tintoretto, Jan Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens or Diego Velázquez. In the region of origin, however, it was difficult to produce this natural dye stuff in large quantities and with consistent quality. Production on a larger scale caused problems in coordinating work, alternately high and low demand for labour, and brought about recurrent infestations of the cacti, all of which prevented cochineal gaining access to the mass market.
The situation was quite different when it came to the blue dye indigo, a highly concentrated plant extract and the only dye produced in the plantation economy of the Caribbean. Unlike European agriculture, this business was not interested in sustainable cultivation but only in the short-term maximizing of the capital invested. This led to a highly specialized, intensive monoculture. The accompanying inordinate strain on the land, the excessive exploitation of the slaves, the cost benefits resulting from the mass production and the synergy of a monoculture with integrated processing meant that an exceptionally high level of productivity was achieved. However, it was primarily the merchants engaged in overseas trade who made a profit. In their role as providers of capital and by dint of their involvement in various lines of business they acquired sufficient dominance on the market to be able to beat down producer prices almost to the level of production costs.
The planters were tied to the specific processing infrastructure required to produce the dye and to the frequently long growth cycles of the indigo plant. They were simply not able to switch over to growing a cash crop that would achieve a maximum profit either at short notice or just as the market required. Following the abolition of slavery and the political chaos in the Caribbean in the 19th century, indigo production for the European market shifted to British India.
Unlike the Caribbean, the areas in India over which the British gradually gained control in the mid-18th century were densely populated and, because of the caste system, property relations were sacrosanct. Accordingly, the Europeans restricted themselves to the processing of indigo leaves in factories built on rented land and run with the aid of paid labour. Plant materials were obtained by closing deals with peasant farmers who cultivated indigo at their own expense. However, the contractual relations, which were liberal in the beginning, were gradually replaced by procurement systems in which the peasants became dependent and were increasingly at the mercy of the European indigo producers. This caused social tensions and among other things boosted the protest movement around Mahatma Gandhi. In the end natural indigo lost its importance in the European dye industry: to begin with, it was gradually replaced by cheaper materials such as logwood and eventually other sources of tannin in the dyeing of black, which used to be achieved by combining deep blue with red. The botanical dye was finally supplanted by synthetic indigo around 1900. However, the crux of the change was not that industrial production was more cost-efficient, but that its marketing became way more effective.