Read Holliday and Sons Ltd.

Scope and Content

The Read Holliday records are very patchy: there is only one surviving minute book for the period 1890-1901, and relatively few financial records. There are a number of financial and legal records relating to Holliday's US enterprises.

Administrative / Biographical History

Read Holliday & Sons was the leading dye-making firm in Yorkshire up to the First World War.

The firm pre-dated the synthetic dyestuffs industry, and its founder Read Holliday (1809-1889) was originally a coal tar distiller, making ammonia products for use in the woollen industry. Holliday also invented a "burning naphtha" lamp, which was briefly popular. Holliday's main factory was at Turnbridge, Huddersfield, and the firm had smaller factories and warehouses in other parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and London.

In the 1860s, Holliday moved into the dyestuffs industry, producing an aniline dye, magenta. Like other manufacturers of the new dyes, they faced challenges over patents, but in 1864 they successfully won a case brought against them by the rival firm of Simpson, Matley and Nicholson over rosaniline (the aniline base used for magenta dyes). During the next decade the firm prospered, and entered the US market. Read Holliday's sons Charles (1842-1893), Thomas (1840-1898), and Robert Holliday joined him in running the firm. Read Holliday retired in 1868 and the firm became Read Holliday & Sons (it became a limited company in 1890).

In the 1870s, the firm was involved with the new azo dyes, and also invented a new process for "vatting" indigo dyes. Due to their close connections with the local woollen industry, Hollidays were also interested in the practical application of dyes to fibres, and for a period had their own dyeing operation at Turnbridge. In 1880, Robert Holliday discovered new type of insoluble dye, named Vacancerien Red, which proved an important source of income. Despite this success, Hollidays remained a relatively small firm. During the 1890s the firm suffered something of a crisis, as Read Holliday's sons died unexpectedly. Lionel Holliday, Read's grandson, now took on the company, after joining the board in 1901. However, the firm's major figure in the early twentieth century was Joseph Turner, who had worked his way up through the firm to become head chemist, and was appointed chairman in 1901.

Turner wanted the company should focus on making dyestuffs and intermediates, particularly azo and sulphide dyes, and the company's other activities were divested. In 1914, the firm shifted to war-related production. As it played a critical role in wartime production, the government wished to safeguard its work, and consequently it was transformed into British Dyes Ltd, which enjoyed political and financial support from the government. Turner became a managing director of the new firm; Lionel Holliday at this point left the firm, later establishing his own successful dyestuffs firm in Huddersfield. Huddersfield remained a major manufacturing site for ICI during its period of manufacturing dyestuffs.

Read Hollidays established a base in the United States, at Brooklyn, New York in the 1860s. It was originally run by Thomas Holliday, later by another son of Read Holliday, Edgar Holliday, with his brother John Holliday supervising the production side of its work. The firm was incorporated in 1890, with a head office in Manhattan, and branches in Boston and Philadelphia. It was transferred to the Dyestuffs Corporation of America in 1924 (a subsidiary of BDC) and liquidated in 1928.