Levinstein Ltd.

Scope and Content

The records of Levinstein Ltd. are very fragmentary. There are an incomplete set of Directors minutes for 1890 to 1915, but very few records have survived form the earlier period when the firm was a private partnership (there also appear to be no surviving family records). there are an interesting collection of files created just before the company became part of BDC, which related to tariffs and protected markets, and were almost certainly created by Herbert Levinstein in his efforts to lobby for the government for import duties on foreign dyestuffs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Levinstein Ltd. was one of the earliest and most important British dye-making companies. Its founder Ivan Levinstein (1845-1916) was a major figure in the industry, known for his outspoken views on matters as diverse as imports, patents and technical education.

Levinstein was the son of a Berlin merchant. He studied chemistry at the University of Berlin, before joining the family business. Levinstein's brothers had moved to London in the early 1860s to establish themselves in the dyeing trade, and were joined by Ivan in 1864. Ivan set up at Salford, (his brother Adolf was already working in Manchester), and submitted his first patent on 13 March 1865 for a Rosaline (artificial magenta) dye. As his business developed, Levinstein moved to Hulton House, Blackley in north Manchester, an area which had long associations with dye making. He developed a Blackley blue dye, which was used to dye wool and paper, and proved very successful , and this was followed by Manchester Brown and a Manchester Yellow dyes. During the 1870s, Ivan became increasingly dominant in the business, especially after the death of his brother Hugo in 1878. The Blackley works was expanded, and expanded into acid wool dyes. The company ran a small research operation, employing mainly German and Swiss chemists, but many of these did not stay long.

From the late 1870s, Levinsteins manufactured azo dyes. The company developed some highly efficient intermediates for the azo dye process, which were sold successful to German competitors. In the 1880s, Levinstein fought and lost a patent case with BASF over acid wool dyes. As a result, he was prevented from manufacturing these dyes at Blackley, and was forced to move some production tot he Netherlands, where patent law was more permissive. In 1890, Levinstein entered a partnership with the German firms, Bayers, Leonhardts and Agfa to become the sole British licensee for direct cotton dyes. The firm then became incorporated as I. Levinstein and Co. ltd. Agfa and Bayers had representatives on the board. Levinsteins were also required to enforce patents for the relevant products of their partners in the British courts. The German firms had been motivated by a fear that new patent laws would require them to work their patents in the UK; this did not happen and in 1895, Levinstein and his German partners brought the arrangement to an end.

Ivan Levinstein became a vocal spokesman for the dyestuffs industry. He was concerned about declining British competitiveness against Germany, which he saw as being in part due to poor technical education. Levinstein established the Chemical Review in 1871, and supported the Manchester Technical School, ensuring that dyeing was taught there as both an academic and vocational subject. Levinstein was a founder of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1881, serving as its President between 1901-3. He was also a founder member of the Society of Dyers and Colourists in 1884.

Unusually for a Manchester industrialist, Levinstein was a tariff reformer, and was a member of Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Commission. He became increasingly critical of German firms, following unsuccessful litigation with BASF in the 1880s, and his through his experience of working with German firms between 1890 and 1895. Levinstein supported duties against imported dyes, and a tougher application of patent law to prevent German penetration of British markets.

Levinstein's second son, Herbert (1878-1956) took over the firm in 1915, at a time when it was being courted by the new government-backed British Dyestuffs Company. Levinstein's had played a full part in manufacturing chemical for military purposes during the War, including poison gases. They had also sequestered a German chemical plant at Ellesmere Port in 1916, which manufactured artificial indigo. Although Herbert initially resisted overtures from BDC, 1918, his firm became part of the new British Dyestuffs Corporation Ltd, where he served for some years as joint managing director. Levinsteins site at Blackley became the hub of the new ICI Dyestuffs Division from 1926, acting as the divisional HQ as well as its research and development centre.