The transition from natural madder to synthetic alizarine in the American textile industry, 1870-1890

Lopez, Judith
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In the 19th century, synthetic dyestuffs replaced natural materials that had been used for thousands of years. This research examined the transition of one dyestuff, madder, found in plant roots, to its synthetic counterpart, alizarine, discovered in 1868. Records of ten American dye or print works were located in five museums, libraries, and historic associations in Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Dye inventories, color superintendent journals, swatch books, payroll records, and company correspondence of 1870 to 1890 were investigated to analyze the transition. Variables including economic factors and chemical technologies were explored to ascertain when, and possibly why, the transition occurred. Results suggest alizarine replaced madder 6 to 15 years after its introduction in the companies studied. Garancine, a chemically treated madder product acted in an intermediary role. Common auxiliary ingredients also served to bridge the transition. Alizarine was cheaper, easier to use because it was purer, gave more consistent results, and provided a greater variety of colors than madder. The replacement of madder, one of the most important dyes in the American textile industry, by alizarine seems to have persuaded dye superintendents of the value in synthetic dyes. Documenting the use of madder, garancine, and alizarine in the American textile coloring industry perserves an important link in textile history. Further research might include documenting the transition from other natural dyestuffs to their synthetic replacements, and determining what factors influenced the much greater number of yards of printed cottons produced after the discovery of alizarine.

Textiles and clothing, History, History of technology and science