History of Dyes by

*with special focus on Carpet Dyes and Carpet Manufacturing

© 1990-2012 CYC All Rights Reserved (Revised 3/1/12). All material is copyrighted and protected under USA & International Copyright Law


The art and science of dyes began more than 10,000 years ago. The very first dyes may have been crude compounds made of plants mixed with water by early uncivilized man for the purpose of tribal rituals, (to identify or differentiate class or status or group) or to simply amuse children with colors. Color is an easy quick way to identify, associate or differentiate one thing with another as a visual index. Colors can increase or decrease the value of an object. Dyes are a water based variety of colors.

Dyes have played a vital role in human history. In the 1947 book, "Treason's Peace - German Dyes and American Dupes" by Howard Watson Ambruster, the dye industry is directly cited as the primary underlying cause of both WWI and WWII. It's an incredible historical perspective on American and European (specifically German) power struggles over the chemical and dye industries that supported, employed and advanced many technologies for billions of humans worldwide.

There are thousand of dyes manufactured world wide. Commonly referred to as "dyestuffs". Very few dyes are actually made in the USA. Most commerce involving dye usage in the USA comes from American dye distributors who get their dyestuffs from countries outside of North America. Germany is still considered the best manufacturers of dyes globally.

A new breed of "retro-naturalists" have emerged in the last decade to promote natural and organic everything including dyes. The fact is that synthetic dyes have proven to be far safer, more reliable, of far greater variety and more consistent than natural or so-called "organic" dyes. "Natural" dyes are made from a variety of vegetation, plant life, animal life including certain insects (butterflies, etc.) and sea life. Quality and safety of natural dyes have no superiority over synthetic dyes. In many cases, synthetic dyes have great advantages over natural dyes.

Although dyes can appear opaque, since they are water based, especially modern dyes, are water soluble in the application state and are therefore "transparent" colors. Once applied they become stable and "fixed" onto or into a surface or substrate such as clothing, paper, carpet, glass, contact lenses and many other surfaces. Dyes are primarily used as coloring in the textile, chemical and food industries.

Dyes are a mixture of water (as a carrier, sometimes other "wet" but non-petro solutions are used like alcohol) and either a natural or a synthetic chemical(s). "Dyestuffs" are the powder or crystal form of the chemical(s) used to make dyes for personal or commercial applications. Dyes penetrate and combine with textiles on the surface or material to which it is applied. Dyes, properly applied, do not change the texture or feel of the textile onto which it is applied.

In contrast, unlike dyes, paints are oil based primarily and are applied as a coating that hardens on the surface to which it is applied like an outer artificial skin or "shell". Dissimilar to paints, dyes change the natural or existing color of a "recipient" object such as textiles or "liquid" chemicals or food products and other products. Paints are "coatings" and are used to cover and change just the surface of solid items. paints are petro chemicals (oil based). Once hardened or "set" paints are semi-permanent. Paints are subject to deterioration by the elements, chemical exposure and mechanical invasion (sun, chemicals, abrasion, oxidation). Paints over time lose their "elasticity" and "dry out", resulting in peeling, cracking and fading.

This history of dyes is an original overview and compiled by Connie B. D'Imperio from various sources cited below and from personal or hired research. While no timeline of history is protected by private authorship, some self proclaimed "academics" have tried to suppress history and facts by claiming their right to control historical facts which they had merely compiled from plagiarizing the works of other real professionals and did not even give credit to those professionals. No one can copyright history!

In our free society, "Free Enterprise" has capitalized on and from educating anyone who can benefit from the history of any product or service. Use of such information to educate the public is not only ethical but an admirable way to promote intellectual and commercial exchange. If in the process commercial benefit is gained by the providing author, everyone benefits. If more disclosure and circulation of certain industries, products and practices were encouraged and required by the "academics" as well as the public and the government, we could all make better decisions and stay better informed. Especially the higher education communities, who benefit the most from our commercial gain, contributions and associated stewardship of the arts and educational institutions.

However, as a "body of work" the history below is copyrighted. Under the "fair use" clause for educational purposes, excerpts may be quoted or used by students. To reproduce large portions or the entire "body of works" for personal or commercial use, you must submit a request for permission from the author and receive written permission from the author and conspicuously acknowledge the name of the rightful author with the presentation of the excerpt and/or works.

Color Your Carpet® dyes, processes and related formulas are proprietary. They are only available for application by our authorized Certified Dye Technicians and Dye Masters. While the below timeline is selective for our technological purposes, we have included some important highlights concerning the introduction, discoveries or status of certain textile and chemical industries. We welcome your comments, suggestions, questions and corrections. Also visit our Color History Page.

Dye History Timeline

30,000-10,000 BC Palaeolithic Culture, Euro-African finger painting on mud and rock cave walls. Animal fat mixed with native pigments, yellow, brown and red clay with bone and charcoal soot black. So even cavemen had created and used dyes!

4000 BC - India made dyes and lacquers from trees and scrubs that were alcohol based.

3000 BC - Potash glass frit was made with copper by fusing copper salts in potassium silica glass. This was a solid cyan pigment that could be mixed with wax, sandracca (sandarac), egg, casein or mastic, a color in direct competition with India's indigo. Africa was circumnavigated by the Phoenicians under the Pharaoh Necho.

2600 BC - China's earliest recorded use of dyestuffs

2500 BC - India - Indus Valley civilization believed to be the first dyers in India.

1400 BC - Phoenician dye industry began.

715 BC - Rome establishes wool dyeing as a craft.

638 BC - Tyrian dye industry destroyed by conquering armies.

511 BC - Persia - Imperial Purple (Murex) used as dye in Persia for Royal robes.

236 BC - Egypt - An Egyptian papyrus scroll mentions dyers as "stinking of fish, with tired eyes and hands working unceasingly"

55 BC - Italy - Painted people "picti" dyed with Woad (similar to Indigo) found by Romans in Gaul


50 AD to 100 AD - Italy - Madder and Indigo dyed textiles found in Roman graves.

200 - Greece, the oldest documented recipe for a dye "Stockholm Papyrus" (imitation purple) found in a grave.

392 - "On pain of death" the use of certain shades of purple were decreed forbidden by Byzantium's Emperor Theodosium. (Only the Imperial family was permitted exception).

400 - Italy - Roman Emperor Augustus records the huge demand and over harvesting for Murex (the mollusk from which purpura is derived) which causes scarcity and extremely high pricing. Compared to today's currency, 5 pounds of cloth dyed with Murex would be worth $150,000.

600 - Italy - Monasteries make decorated manuscripts (Illuminated manuscripts) by painting on scrolls and putting them in boxes to preserve and protect them. At that time monasteries are the only places any painting is being done. This art form continues for the next five hundred years.

700 - CONSTANTINOPLE - The "Lucca Manuscript", describes making transparent stain or dye colors from plants with alum precipitates (gilding, gums and emulsions). These were mainly used for some little known art forms such as "Pictura Translucida". Another "lost technique" was called "cera colla", which is ammonia and wax emulsified wax paint.

700's - China - Batik, dyeing with the wax resist technique, is first recorded in a Chinese manuscript.

925 - Germany - Wool Dyers' Guilds first initiated.

1188 - England (London) - First mention of Guilds for Dyers

1197 - England - Parliament is persuaded by King John to protect the public from poor quality goods by regulating the dyeing of woolens

1200's - Italy - Making purple dye from lichens, a lost ancient art, is rediscovered by Rucellia, of Florence after lichens are sent from Asia Minor.

1212 - Italy - Florence records more than 200 dyers, fullers and tailors in a directory.

1290 - Germany begins raising Woad extensively In this period, it was the only Blue dye.  Madder, weld and woad were now the 3 major dyes.

1321 - England - Brazilwood, now used as a dye, was imported from East Indies and India.

1400+ As part of a yearly tribute to Montezuma, the Mayans paid to the Aztecs 40 bags of Cochineal (insect dye) each.

1429 - Italy - 1st European book, "Mariegola Dell'Arte de Tentori ", published on the subject of dyeing.

1464 - Italy - Although actually Scarlet from the Kermes insect, "Cardinals' Purple" was introduced by Pope Paul II and was considered the first luxury dye of the Middle Ages.

1472 - England - Edward IV forms Dyers Company of London, LLC

1507 - France, Germany and Holland  - The cultivation of dye plants is initiated as an industry.

1578 - England - Logwood (also called Blackwood), a Black dye is introduced for dyeing only to be banned a few years later because the dye was very fugitive (colors faded easily).

1630 - Holland chemist, Drebbel, developed a new brilliant red dye from cochineal and tin.

1688 - England - James II, to promote the home dye industry, prohibits exportation of un-dyed cloth specifically to compete with Scottish dyers.

1724 - Europe - The "Paint War" begins. Germany discovers paints, England claims the discovery was theirs. England, France and Germany were stealing from each other and claiming rights of discoveries .

1774 - Sweden - A chemist, Scheele, discovers that chlorine destroys vegetable colors by observing a cork in a bottle of hydrochloric acid.

1786 - France - Bertholet recommends chlorine water for commercial bleaching. Hydrogen peroxide, sodium peroxide and sodium perborate, other oxidizing agents, were also being used.

1800 - England - Indian Yellow, the best and very permanent transparent yellow was brought to England from India. The raw product is
called Monghyr (magnesium euxanthate natural organic), after a city in Bangal. England kept the formula secret for eighty years. Produced brown to yellow and orange to yellow, two duel-tones colors.

Indian Yellow: Thirteen opaque colors are needed to replace this one transparent color, from Permanent Green Light to Cadmium Red Dark. No one has ever brought these colors back or made a comparable replacement.  The Russians had access to Indian Yellow long after the rest of Europe. It was to be more than 150 years before a comparable substitute is created by Old Holland called "Synthetic Gamboge". Although it can a make a dark triad, it produces a "dirty Orange".

1826 - England treated Madder Lake in a sulfur acid bath. The result - a "New and Improved" Alizarin. At the same time Aniline, an oil-like product, is produced by distilling coal tar.

1832 - Scotland - Richard Whytock invents and patents the printing of various colors on yarns.

1832 - England - William Winsor & Henry Newton establishes "Winsor & Newton".

1856 - England - Aniline colors from coal tar discovered by William H. Perkins. Coal tar colors have no body, therefore they must be lakes or precipitated on clay or mineral colors. Considered the first "synthetic" dyestuff, Perkins had been researching a cure for malaria. While trying to produce a synthetic quinine, he accidentally discovered an aniline (basic) "Mauve" color. Although initially a brilliant pink-purple (fuscia) it faded quickly in use. This marked the beginning of the rise of the synthetic dye industry and the decline of natural dyestuff demand.

1862 First soluble azo dye, "Bismarck Brown" developed by Martius and Lightfoot.

1863 - Germany - Hoechst starts production of Fuchsin dye.

1884 - England - The Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC) is founded. the only international professional society specializing in color in all its manifestations. It was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation in 1963.

1887 First azo mordant dye, Alizarin Yellow GG

1890 - England - Winsor & Newton stopped making Indian Yellow.

1897 - Introduction of synthetic Indigo dye.

1900 - Persia - Mozaffer ed Din became Shah and one of his first edicts was to prohibit the use of aniline dyes for rugs. All aniline dyes were seized and publicly burned. Penalties were severe and included jail and fines equal to twice the actual merchandise value.

1900 - Mapico (brand) creates "Permanent Mars Colors", Synthetic Iron Oxides: Red, Yellow, Orange, Brown.

1911 Azo Yellow, the second coal tar dye was a failure, it turned brown, but not before the big ban. England, under a puritan guise, banned the best transparent duel-tone Indian Yellow. The worst year in color history. Production or use of Indian Yellow is made illegal.

1914 - USA - Since 90% of its dyestuffs were imported from Germany, this dependency created a major problem during WWI.

1916 - Germany - The "Big Six" dye companies completely consolidated into one company, I. G. Dyes. German companies were the biggest producers of the most important dyestuffs namely aniline. The last color wheel (square) of college record was by Church-Ostwald. It
      has Yellow, Red, Sea Green and Ult. Blue at the corners.

1918 - USA - American Dyes Institute is formed.

1922 - USA - The AATCC (American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists) formed its first subcommittee to study wash-fastness of printed and dyed cottons, formulate testing procedures, standards of fastness.

1925 - USA - Dr HJ Conn publishes the first edition of Biological Stains. This book has become a standard source of reference in technical and research histopathological and biological laboratories using dyes. Histopathology is, a sub-section of Histology, is the study of the organization of tissues and organs using the microscope by the use of color to identify individual components of tissue sections is accomplished mainly with chemical dyes. Dyes are a vital part of medical science and medical advancements in defining, identifying, categorizing and therefore finding cures for pathological diseases.

1928 - USA - Dupont begins the research that soon leads to the discovery of nylon

1936 - USA - New synthetic fiber from DuPont called "nylon" is patented by Carothers, who first used nylon as the fiber for a pair of stockings.

1938 - USA - Nylon formally introduced to the public.

1948 - USA - Textiles became second largest industry in USA. The average consumer consumption per capita of fibers: 27 lbs cotton, 6.3 lbs rayon, 4.9 lbs wool.

1951 - USA - Irgalan dyes introduced by Geigy, the first neutral pre-metallized dyes (required less acid than Neolans)

1950 - USA - Dupont introduced first commercial availability of Orlon, a new acrylic "wool substitute"

1951 - USA - DuPont begins to manufacture Dacron polyester.

1951 - USA - Chemstrand Corp introduces a new acrylic, Acrilan.

1953 - USA - DuPont begins first U.S. commercial Polyester (Polyethyleneterephthalate or Polyethylene Naphthalate or PET) fiber production

1953 - USA - Cibalan Brilliant Yellow 3GL is introduced. This dye would lead to the discovery of the fiber reactive dyes.

1954 - USA - Celanese Corp announced first commercial production of an American triacetate, Arnel.

1956 - England - ICI introduced Procion, first range of fiber reactive dye.

1957 - USA - CIBA introduces Cibacrons, a new range of reactive dyes.

1958 - USA - First American commercial Olefin (polypropylene & polyethylene) fiber production: olefin monofilaments for various specialized uses

1956 - USA - Eastman Kodak introduced Verel, a modified Acrylic

1956 - USA - American Cyanamid introduced a new acrylic, Creslan

1956 - USA - One person working out of every seven received their income from work performed in textile or apparel industries!

1958 - USA - Eastman Kodak introduced Kodel polyester.

1961 -USA - Hercules Incorporated produces textile grade multifilament polypropylene

1964 - USA - First permanent press finishes used

1968 - USA - DuPont introduces Qiana, a fancy nylon with "silk" feel and drape

1968 - USA - For the first time manmade fibers topped natural fibers for US consumption. 5 billion pounds vs 4.6 billion pounds.

1996 - USA - About 2.8 billion pounds of nylon fiber were produced in the US, nearly 80 percent of that was sold to carpet manufacturers as continuous filament (BCF) and staple as well as about 10 percent to the rest of the textile industry and 10 percent to other industries.

2000 - UK and USA - THE SDC along with AATCC in the US, became responsible for the joint management of ISO TC38/SC1, the International Standards Organization Committee responsible for the color fastness of textiles.

2001 - USA - More than 4 billion (4,000,000,000) pounds (that's 2 million tons!) of carpet are sent to landfills in the USA annually. About 75%, or 3 billion pounds, of this discarded carpet wouldn't have to go to the landfills every year if everyone knew about the Color Your Carpet® on-site re-dyeing services.

TODAY - Worldwide - The main issues with current carpet dyes (used for on-site carpet dyeing), except for the "Color Your Carpet®" dyeing service, is the lack of proper training and reliable availability of service. More than 200 markets are served globally by Color Your Carpet® but 3,000 more are needed.

The FUTURE - Property owners will be able to plan and cost-effectively maintain or change their carpet color and extend the life, look and beauty of their carpet.

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