Rubin Rabinowitz
“Reflections On A Half-Century In The Dye Industry”

American Dyestuff Reporter, November 1992, pp. 131-138. Reproduced with Permission of Rubin Rabinowitz, Chairman of the American Dyestuff Corporation, Clifton, NJ.

First Job

Rubin Rabinowitz, Founder of Atlantic Chemical Corporation in 1947
Rubin Rabinowitz, Founder of Atlantic Chemical Corporation in 1947

The day after graduating from Passaic High School in January 1937, I began my search for a job in chemistry. I planned to study chemical engineering at night. Turning to the Yellow Pages for the alphabetical listing of chemical companies, I wrote down the names of the companies within walking distance. The first was Brook Chemical Company in Clifton, NJ. I had no idea what they did, but the name indicated chemistry and that was my goal.

I walked into their office not long afterwards. "Rubie, what are you doing here?" said the surprised office manager. She was a friend of my sister Dorrie. Once I explained my mission she replied that prospects were dim, as business was not too brisk. Nevertheless, she sent me in to the laboratory to see the chemist. In I went.

"Rubie, what are you doing here?"

This time from the chemist. We were both surprised. He had been a patrol leader in my boy scout troop in Passaic. He allowed as how he could use a pot-walloper and beaker washer and someone to do weighings. But times were depressed and it would have to be the owner's decision. I waited. He went into the owner's office to make his pitch. Minutes later, he came out and ushered me in.

Behind a desk, dimly visible through a cloud of foul smelling cigar smoke, I perceived a large cigar protruding from a round pleasant face attached to a rotund body. This was the owner, Mr. Theodore H. Boss. "Rabinowitz? Rabinowitz? Don't you have a sister Ethel who is a friend of my sister Elsie? And didn't they go to law school together?"

Both answers were yes. He leaned forward peering at me owlishly.

"How about five bucks a week?"

My instant affirmative response caused a slightly dismayed look to cross his face. He knew instantly that he could have gotten me for four!

I didn't realize then that I had just met a man destined to become a legend in his own lifetime. Teddy Boss gave up the practice of law. The reasons need not be discussed now, but suffice it to say, they were compelling. The dye and chemical business looked promising because his father-in-law, known to one and all as Old Man Kaback, owned Artistic Dye Works on Jewell Street, Brooklyn, NY. Artistic's alumni consisted of dyers and finishers who distinguished themselves in the industry, among them were George Sarfi and Henry Valis.

Teddy started business as Brook Oil and Chemical Company. He obtained some samples of turkey red oil and" some other finishes from Jacques Wolf & Co. in Passaic. He distributed samples to about a dozen dyehouses in the Paterson area. He never got a single order for his oils and finishes. (His own father-in-law wouldn't buy from him.) He was flat broke and about to give up when one day in walks a Mr. Victor Berman. The conversation as related by Teddy to me many years later went this way:

Don Victor Berman: "Mr. Boss, I see your samples at some of my customers. I want you out of the oil and finishes business."

Outraged Ted Boss: "Out? Out? I'm just expanding! I've already gotten a foothold in it!"

Don Victor Berman: "Boss, cut the bunk! I'll give you five thousand dollars for Brook Oil & Chemical Co. and for you to stay out of the oil and finishes business for good."

Ted Boss: "Done. You've got a deal. Vic."

Next step? New company — Brook Chemical Company founded with five thousand dollars from Vic Berman and formed to sell everything a dye house needs, mainly dyes, but no oils and finishes. This started Theodore H. Boss on creating a multi- million dollar dye reselling business. Vic Berman and Teddy Boss became good friends. Teddy never went back on his word.

Digressions abound. I should stick to my story, but in the process of writing, certain incidents pop into my head. They are still amusing and interesting, although perhaps just to me and a few others who still remember the people involved.

Teddy was without doubt the greatest dye salesman in his era. (He certainly became the richest.) He was a guy who knew nothing about dyes except the prices to his customers and the cost to him. That part is possible and even normal. The utterly remarkable fact about Teddy Boss was that he was totally and completely colorblind. He could see only black and white. All other colors were shades of grey. Almost no one ever realized this. Every dyeing we gave to him was labeled as to color. His memory for the details others told him about color, strength and brightness of dyes was infallible. I have personally heard him discuss dyeings and colors with dyers who had not a clue that the man speaking so convincingly was absolutely color blind. I found this out a year after he hired me when he was ticketed for driving through a red light in Secaucus. The traffic fixture had been hung upside down. The red light was on the bottom.

Let me relate one more Teddy Boss anecdote. Teddy was an entrepreneur, first and foremost. He could never pass up a "good deal." Of course, it should be understood that in any 50/50 deal you made with Teddy, you would end up with 25 and he with 75. That's the way it was. But you could make more on the short end with him than doing it yourself. Why? Because not only could he provide the backing, but he was also the luckiest risktaker I knew. Example: Teddy's one and only venture in the Turkish gum tragacanth trade.

“Gum Trag” Episode

A local hustler approached Teddy with a proposition. There was a shortage of gum tragacanth. He (the hustler) could get the papers for a large batch of it just leaving Turkey. Total cost: $50,000.00. Teddy, cautious as usual, called Mike Costello at Jacque Wolf & Co. to ask if the shortage of gum trag was a fact. Mike assured him that there wasn't a pound of it around. Textile printers and candy makers were going crazy looking for it. Teddy put up the money and waited for the ship to come in.

Four days before the ship was due, Mike Costello called Teddy to tell him that three ships were unloading tons and tons of gum trag at the same pier in Hoboken, and the shortage was going to be over in a day or two. Teddy was frozen with horror. He tried to reach his hustler friend, who already had the news and departed immediately for parts unknown. Teddy was frantic. He knew less about gum trag than he did about dyes. He envisioned losses upon losses. The  following morning, Teddy received another call from Mike Costello.

"Teddy," said Mike, "a curious thing happened last night. The pier in Hoboken with these three ship loads of gum trag has just burned downed to the waterline. The Hudson River has swallowed it all. Jacques Wolf & Co. will take your shipment afloat as is, where-is, and will assure you a profit. Let's say four times your cost. Is it a deal?"

Mike being a fine fellow and a fine gentleman, Teddy agreed with such a generous gesture, but requested another 10% just in case, he explained, the missing hustler showed up again; That fink deserved something for his great idea!

1940 — In A Business of My Own (Partly... Specifically 10%)

Chuck Lauster and Elmer Warshaw both worked as independent salesmen for Brook Chemical. Both were good producers. I was chief chemist. Elmer suggested they get together and form a company. Chuck said O.K. but not without Rubie for the technical end. Elmer agreed. We formed Berkshire Color & Chemical Corp. in Passaic. Elmer and Chuck had 45% each and I owned 10%. Wow! Twenty years old and part owner of a dye business with two hot-shot salesmen. Floyd Warshaw, Elmer's brother, one of the nicest gentlemen in the business, owned Berkshire Color & Chemical in Springfield, MA. We were separate corporations.

Berkshire Color did very well. Chuck eventually lost his biggest customer in Shamokin, PA, and left the firm. Elmer bought him out. Before leaving Brook Chemical, Teddy Boss extracted two promises from me. The first was that he be allowed to call me at anytime for technical information, and the second that my brother Bay, a freshman at M.I.T., be allowed to work for him during the summer even though we were competitors. Who was our first customer at Berkshire? Theodore H. Boss.

I was not happy being a reseller of dyes. My dream was to manufacture. There were some small guys who bucked the big companies. There was Dr. Rocco Nazzarro who had formed Garden State Colors to make disperse dyes. He was wiped out when the big guys dropped disperse dye prices by 50% to 75%. The lesson was clear when Garden State faded out.

However, a couple of very capable Calco chemists, Line Schaefer and Dan Graziano, started Phoenix Color Company on Van Houten Street in Paterson and operated very successfully. In later years, they were bought by Interchemical. By then, the plant was run by a wonderful guy named Johnny Zelek. He ended up with Harshaw. That plant is now the site of Fabricolor, Inc.

Again, I jumped ahead of myself.

The war came. I went into the army Infantry at Fort Jackson, S.C. From the regiments, I was sent to Division Chemical Office. After I invented some glop that was useful, I was sent to the 27th Officer Training Battalion in Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. In my class were the Clemson Textile Chemistry class, the N.C. State guys and a number of men who were to become executives of Dan River, Rock Hill Printing and other textile and fiber companies. Just a few names&emdash;Aubrey Goodson, Chas. "Granny" Howard, Charlie Reese, Harry Momeier, John Henry Propst, Tom Croxton, etc. Small world.

In 1947, back from the war, I left Berkshire and started Atlantic Chemical Corporation to manufacture and sell dyes. Timing and luck were the most important ingredients in our early success. After World War II, the world needed dyes desperately. The dye factories around the world had been destroyed!

I have often been asked how Atlantic got its first export customers. We knew that dyes were scarce in China and around the world.

Problem: How to find customers in China?

Solution: Depend on human nature.

How: Invent non-existent but logical cable addresses for Chinese importers or users of dyes. We figured the Chinese Western Union messengers would somehow figure out a way to peddle our offerings around to dye merchants who might show their appreciation in some tangible fashion, like a tip.

Action: Dyestuff offerings to fictitious cable addresses were sent to:

"Dyestuffs" — Hong Kong

"Dyestuffs" — Shanghai

"Dyestuffs" — Tientsin

Within a few days, return cables from several companies in each city were received! We were in business. None had the cable address "Dyestuffs." Obviously, the cable delivery fellows sold our name to several real buyers of dyes. For more than 40 years, we continued selling to these people and their children.

About a month after the original cables were sent and we were already shipping, the cable company sent back those three cables marked "Cable address unknown."

The first trading year was phenomenally successful. The time had come to put all the profits into a dye manufacturing factory. Bay, a classmate of mine from Cooper Union, Albert Cohen, and I went on equipment purchasing expeditions. In one case, we got free equipment from a pharmaceutical factory just for the removal of it. Our first gear box, over a former Milk of Magnesia tank which we rechristened a diazo tank, was the rear-end transmission of a Ford or Chevy with the clutch in the reverse mode. As time went on, Bay bought used and surplus machinery until we reached gallonage that only new machinery could satisfy.

We were building a dye plant. How about intermediates? In 1948, Germany, England, France, China, Japan were kaput! They were customers, not sellers. We had to get intermediates somewhere. I went to duPont, Wilmington, to the Organic Chemicals Office. I was greeted stiffly by three men. There was Bill Wolf who looked like Herbert Hoover, dressed like Herbert Hoover and scowled like Herbert Hoover. To his right was a big guy with a worn, wrinkled, but friendly face who looked as though he got dressed in the dark. His name was appropriately A. Schyler Slack. On the other side was a neatly dressed young man who looked like Mr. Jr. Chamber of Commerce. His name was David Reece. Mr. Wolf harumphed a suitable number of times and finally asked the purpose of my trip.

RR: "I want to buy intermediates for a dye plant we've erected in Nutley, NJ, USA."

Bill Wolf, eyes bulging: "What? Would you repeat that, young man?" (I was now pushing 28, not so young!)

RR: "Mr. Wolf," I started and repeated the previous lines with a more or less sinking heart.

Bill Wolf: "We haven't taken on a new customer for dye intermediates since 1927. Do you actually want dye intermediates to make dyes and to compete with duPont?"

RR: "Yes, sir."

Bill Wolf: "Harumph! Harumph! Well, let me tell .."

A. Schyler Slack: "Bill, excuse me for interrupting but would you keep Mr. Rabinowitz here a few minutes. I'll be right back."

Bill Wolf: No words, just glared menacingly at Slack as Slack ambled out. There is quiet in the room.

Dave Reece: "Mr. Rabinowitz, tell us about yourself."

Since I feel, except for Slack's return, that this interview is over, I relate my background starting with my father, a Rabbi, who died when we were young, my experience at Brook Chemical, Berkshire Color, WW II combat experience and now Atlantic. Bill Wolf just looked more like Herbert Hoover. The conversation dwindled to a faint trickle. This is torture, I thought, let me out of here.

Suddenly, A. Schyler Slack ambled back in, sat down slowly, took a pad from his desk, slowly turned to me and asked, "Mr. Rabinowitz, what would you like to order?"

I looked around the room to see if anyone else had heard this guy. No doubt about it. Reece's jaw dropped down, revealing a set of magnificent teeth. Bill Wolf looked stunned as though someone just got his attention with a whack across the skull 'cause he was turning crimson. I looked at Slack and quickly told him to ship two barrels of everything I could think of. I recall dianisidine, benzidine DHCL, tolidine, naphthionic, Neville-Winters, Gamma, H-acid, R-salt, and I don't remember what else.

Slack thanks me, I thank him, I shake his hand warmly, I shake the limp hand of Herbert Hoover, I shake Dave Reece's firm hand (he has recovered), and I depart.

No Questions Asked About Credit!

I drove home totally stunned by events. I got into the factory yard. Bay and the guys were waiting. I told them the story. Silence. Impossible, especially since there was no mention of credit of which we haven't got too much to spare.

To a man we decide to be at the plant 6:30 a.m. to see if a truck from duPont arrives.

Promptly at 7:00 a.m. Cline's Express pulls into the yard, unloads everything I ordered. No C.O.D.! He leaves.

From that day forward, as long as Skeet Slack was at duPont, they got every bit of our intermediate business.

Many years later, Slack and I were sipping a late lunch. I brought up that first visit and asked where he had gone before coming back to the room and writing our initial order. He laughed and told me he had been waiting fifteen years for me to ask that question. The answer? He went to the legal department, asked how they would like to sell intermediates to a new company who would compete with duPont. The legals said the equivalent of grab him, give him anything he wants, don't ask about credit! We need this guy. He goes right into a rebuttal brief we're filing in an anti-monopoly suit.

In short, the right place at the right time. Fate? Luck? We're early settlers. We'll take either or both as an answer.

Congo Red

Now that we had intermediates, we produced Batch #1 of Congo Red for China and India. It came out brown. Tragedy! What to do? We labeled it Congo Brown and sampled our customers with this new item. We received orders and spent months trying to duplicate "Congo Brown" for repeat orders.

Our Congo Red was fine, but recreating Congo Brown was a real challenge.

Wool Red 40F (Acid Amaranth)

In the early 1950's, our largest customer for Acid Amaranth was in India. We received a cabled complaint on shipment number 8. Our laboratory retested on silk, wool skeins, woven gabardine, cross-dye fabric. In short, on every conceivable fiber or cloth for which Acid Amaranth could be used. We air-shipped at great expense the entire stack of dyeings with a statement of our test results and a report from U.S. Testing in Hoboken corroborating the acceptable quality of the dye.

We received, in response, a rather testy cable informing us that they cared nothing at all for our tests on yarns and cloths. They only dyed pistachio nuts.


Image Courtesy of Rubin Rabinowitz
Image Courtesy of Rubin Rabinowitz

Atlantic Chemical Corporation just grew and grew. Manufacturing always consumes more money than is immediately available. Whenever we needed money, certain customers always came through with loans at no interest, no documentation and no lawyers. These men had faith in us and were always there when we needed sudden help&emdash;men like Teddy Boss of Brook Chemical, Harry and Jack Lobsenz of L&R Organics, Rudy and C.A. Funcke of Nova Chemical and Vince Oltremare of Elk Piece Dye Works.


The most dynamic guy I know is my brother, Bay. He is also the only man, I know, who could have built the Great Pyramids without stones. He could have done it on enthusiasm alone. Bay, my sons Jon and Josh, and I were the sole owners of Atlantic.

I remember once a frantic call from Bay at the Nutley factory to me at our headquarters office. He needed some money immediately. Without a second thought, I quickly dispatched a messenger to Nutley with $200.00. I figured a "collect" freight must have arrived or something equally urgent. I called Bav to tell him that $200.00 was rushing on its way. Would it be enough? There was a prolonged silence..."I only needed money for a haircut," said he.

Bay's penchant for surplus machinery at bargain prices was legendary. Nothing compares to his purchase of one million dollars worth of Univac equipment from Army surplus for $5,000.00. Atlantic may have had the first computerized inventory system in the dye business.

One day I received this phone call: "Mr. Rabinowitz, this is the US Naval Base in New London, CT. We are pleased to inform you that yours was the successful bid on Lot #543A, one surplus, slightly used submarine. Please tell us where you would like this delivered."

I was absolutely and totally speechless. I couldn't even stammer. The thought of a submarine parked in our yard next to micro-motors, Irish shillelaghs, lead-lined tanks and tons of hopcolite my dear brother had bought for "future" use was too much to absorb. All I could manage were some strangled sounds. Suddenly, I detected a giggle on the telephone wire. Who the *@#x* is this, I demanded? The laughter broke out in full force. It was Bill Hoffman, P.A. of Burlington Industries, surrounded by a bunch of other low-life friends of ours just having some fun at my expense.

To this day, very few people, except for Max Birnbaum, know that surplus beams from the second layer construction of the Washington Bridge support much of Nutley's equipment, Bay may have been given to overdesign since these beams could have supported the Empire State Building!

Our Man at the O.K. Kerr-al

At one time, we were the largest provider of Vat Olive T Paste, until Otto B. May and American Aniline cranked up their production. A sometime salesman/technical man by the name of Jimmy Myers was able to get large orders for us by reconfiguring continuous dyeing operations so that a mill with a multimillion yard cotton sateen order for OG 107 shade could come out ahead even if they had bid too low. Management at one particular bleachery was in such a bind. Jimmy said he could make them money if they let him move machinery around with a free hand. His reward? The Vat Olive T business which would run about ten ton per month for a year.

Many said Jimmy was a tough, mean, autocratic guy who rode over anyone who got in the way of his solution to a mill problem. No one disputed this and one particular episode served to cement this tough-guy image.

One very hot August day, we received a frantic call from this mill that Jimmy serviced. One hundred steel drums of Vat Olive T Paste, stored in a hot attic of the mill, were beginning to bulge. In fact, the lid blew off one of the drums allegedly taking an elderly employee's upper dentures up through the skylight. We called Jimmy and told him to get up there, release the carbon dioxide buildup in the drums and add 4 oz. Caustic Soda 50% to each drum. The dam stuff had started to ferment.

Like good executives, we just told him to do it without telling him precisely how to do it. Jimmy got the picture fast. He strapped on a pair of Colt 45's, rode up to the mill, went into that hot attic and promptly shot two holes through the lid of each drum. The job done, Jimmy holstered his guns and rode away with the panache of Jesse James.

Chubby (Arthur Cleveland) Sizemore

I shall never forget a particular trip I made with our salesman, the late Chubby Sizemore. We were calling on C. Miller Vemon, P.A., of Dan River Mills in Chubby's hometown, Danville, VA. Anyone who knew Miller Vernon knew he was absolutely a "Pillar of the Community" type. Frank Carter was right there with him and cut of the same deacon's cloth.

For all his 350 pounds, Chubby was agile and so full of personality and charm that he could say and do the most outrageous things without eliciting a bit of wrath.

Anyhow, this day we walked into Miller's office. Frank Carter came in. Chubby took out one of our blue 11-cent Atlantic ballpoint pens and with great ceremony placed it on Miller's desk, on his writing pad as it happened. One would think that a bejewelled object had just been placed before a monarch. Such was Chubby's demeanor with this 11-cent plastic pen.

Miller was used to Chubby's ways. He didn't pay any attention to it and a friendly conversation commenced. After the amenities about business, weather and sports. Miller turned to Chubby and said, "Chubby, I have bad news for you. You're going to lose the Vat Flavone business. Someone has cut your price."

Chubby, all 350 pounds, got up slowly, walked majestically to Miller's desk, snatched up the 11-cent plastic pen and barked at Miller, "Miller, I'm taking back my graft." With that, he strides out, nose in the air, stuffing the 11-cent pen into his shirt pocket, leaving Miller Vernon, Frank Carter and me howling and bent double laughing until tears ran out of our eyes.

Supplementary Education: 1937-1942

Reflecting on my early training, it becomes apparent that my engineering studies at night dealt only marginally with the real world of textile dyeing, printing and finishing. The chemistry, the art, the skill, the machinery and the mechanics of getting cloth off a loom and into a dress or suit manufacturing plant was not described adequately in books at that time. My education came from mill men who were wonderfully kind, obliging and who enjoyed teaching a novice like me exactly what they did, how they did it, why they did it and the machinery used in the doing of it. Nothing I write or think about the early years — 1937–1942 — would have meaning for me without the help of men like Dick Reynolds, Emile Flory, Johnny Bloetjes, Harry Gordon, Frank Carradori, Herman Baumann, Pop Gzell, and the numerous mechanics and artisans who taught me everything, from how to file a doctor-blade, to setting the shoes on a pre- shrinking machine, and to adjusting the registration on a screen or roller-printing machine.

Learning as much as I could absorb from these wonderful people only increased my love and enchantment with the color business and the applications of color. This is still a driving force in my life.

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