The Story of American Viscose How Our Company Started
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The Story of American Viscose How It Started and How It Grew
Typical American Story; From Small Beginnings to Leader of Basic Industry; Further Expansion Seen Ahead. All of us who are members of the American Viscose Corporation group can be proud of our company's past history as a pioneer and leader in the field of rayon production. We can also be justly proud of our present place in the industrial life of our country and of our share in its tremendous war effort. Looking to the future, peacetime conditions should bring an increasing demand for our products and new fields for further Development. A company such as ours, which is the largest producer of rayon in the United States, becomes great because of the vision and hard work of the men and women in it. We all have some share in this. Both old and new employees have helped to keep our company the leader in its field.r,
How the Company Was Started
The successful spinning of viscose rayon yarn was first achieved in England by the famous, century old firm of Samuel Courtauld &C0. Ltd. Courtauld started production of viscose rayon yarn at their plant at Coventry, England, in November, 1905. The first few years were very difficult ones, as countess production problems had to be solved, These problems are unvoidable in connection with any new product, but there were more of them, perhaps, with rayon, because of the complicated nature of the manufacturing process and the need for exact control of each step in order to ensure production of a Quality product.
After three years of hard, unceasing work, Samuel Courtauld & Co. had overcome the most difficult of their initial problems and sawtheir new man-made fiber well on the road to assured success. The yarn was making good progress in England and it was decided to export some of it to the United States. Samuel A. Salvage, a New York yarn merchant, was appointed in 1908 to handle sales in this country and he started immediately to develop markets for the new product.
At the start it was an up-hill struggle, for the textile industries were not familiar with the new fiber and hesitated to try it out. Mr. Salvage persevered, however, leaving his office every day with samples of the yarn under his arm, and describing its good points untiringly to one prospective customer after another. After months of hard work his persistence was rewarded and he began to meet with real success. Manufacturers of braid, millinery, embroidery, ribbons and trimmings found the new yarn suitable for their use and commenced to buy it in sizable amounts. One of the early out-of-the-way uses in the United States, incidentally, was in the manufacture of prayer rugs. Encouraged by the good progress made, Samuel Courtauld & Co. purchased the United States patents for the manufacture of viscose rayon in June, 1910. In November of that year, they purchased a site for a rayon producing plant at Marcus Hook, Pa. plant at Mlarcus HOOK, Pa.
Building of the Marcus Hook Plant
There then began 18 months of activity that started the rayon industry in the United States. By October, 1911, the Marcus Hook plant was completed and began commercial production. During the final months of that year it produced 362,544 pounds of rayon, the first to be spun in this country. All this production was sold without difficulty, due to the market development work done in the two preceding years. At that time the total personnel at Marcus Hook was about 600. A number of rayon technicians originally employed at Courtauld's plant at Coventry came over to work for American Viscose. These men rendered distinguished service in overcoming the many problems of the early days and they hold high rank in the history of rayon in the United States. Some of them are still actively associated with our company. Among these are: James Breakell, chief plant engineer at Roanoke : Ernest D. Copson, Master Mechanic of the Chemical Ressearch Department at Marcus Hook; Harry Crewdson, Chief Operating Engineer of the company at Wilmington ; Michael Mortimer, Foreman of the Waste Room at Marcus Hook, and James Oakes, a pipe fitter at Marcus Hook.
By 1912 large quantities of men's socks were being knitted from viscose rayon yarn in the United States, and it was believed that an important new market for our yarn could be developed with the Manufacturers of women's hosiery. Special attention was given to the hose trade and other manufacturers of knited fabrics, and the results were of great interest. Three years later, in 1915, about 70 percent of all the rayon consumed in the United States was being used by knitting mills that made it into men's socks, women's hosiery and women's knitted lingerie. Weavers were also beginning to use the yarn for woven dress and other fabrics. The company was now employing about 2,500 people and its output of yarn in 1916 was 5,778,000 pounds. Demand for the yarn was constantly expanding and about 2,500,000 pounds had to be imported each year. Because of these conditions, the company decided to build a second rayon production plant.
New Plants Are Added
The second plant was located at Roanoke, Va., and started commercial production of viscose rayon yarn in October, 1917. As the demand for rayon continued to expand, the construction of a third plant was decided upon in 1920. This plant, located at Lewistown, in central Pennsylvania, commenced operations in August, 1921. In November, 1922, the company bought a small plant at Nitro, W. Va., that had been used during World War I for the manufacture of guncotton. This plant was converted to make cotton linters pulp for use in the company's three other plants at Marcus Hook, Roanoke and Lewistown. In 1936 the Nitro plant was changed over lo the manufacture of viscose rayon staple. This product consists of short lengths of rayon fiber ranging from 1 to 8 inches in length. These are spun into spun rayon yarns, which are made into spun rayon fabrics.
The company's fifth plant was built at Parkersburg, W. Va., and started operations in August, 1927. It manufactured both viscose rayon yarn and viscose rayon staple. All the plants built by the company up to this time had been for the production of viscose process rayon. In the late twenties it was decided to erect a plant to make acetate rayon and Meadville in northwestern Pennsylvania was selected for its location. This plant started operations in June, 1930. Our seventh plant, located at Front Royal, Va., started operations in 1940. It manufactures two products high strength viscose rayon yarn of the type used in tire fabric, and viscose rayon staple. This plant is now being expanded by Government order to more than triple its output of high-strength yarn.
Production is being increased from 25,000,000 to 82,000,000 pounds. A tour of these plants takes one through a region much favored by tourists for its mountains, valleys, winding rivers and quaint early American towns. At Marcus Hook, the company's village, situated on the historic Delaware River, comprises English style houses of brick, stucco and oak beam construction. Today, of course, this birthplace of the American rayon industry is a busy industrial center. Roanoke is particularly favored by nature, being in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley formed by the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Range. It is in a famous apple growing region. Lewistown has an attractive location on the Juniata River, and Parkersburg commands attention both geographically and scenically. Situated near the Kentucky and Ohio borders, it looks out over the broad Ohio River.
Located on the Kanawha River, Nitro has a particularly interesting history. During World War I, when the guncotton plant that our company later purchased was erected, it became a boom city, rising from virtually no inhabitants to some 20,000 in less than a year. After the war it had an equally quick collapse, but the development of our rayon staple plant and its steady expansion has revived Nitro again. The district around Nitro also has important chemical plants, coal, and gas and oil wells.
Front Royal is in a region that in normal peacetime conditions is visited by thousands of tourists each year. It is is at the northern end of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley just above the entrance to the famous Skyline Drive. The scattered location of the seven plants spreads the benefits of a growing industry to many widely separated areas. It has also made possible easy and economical distribution of our rayon to the country's textile mills.
Have Pioneered Rayon
Improvements During these three decades of steady, healthy expansion, the American Viscose Corporation pioneered in research work to make rayon more useful to more people and thus broaden the markets for our products. In 1926 we produced the first dull viscose rayon yarn, which made it possible for rayon to be used in numerous new types of fabrics. Previously all rayon had been shiny or bright. In 1931 we introduced the first dull acetate rayon, which led to a much wider use of that type of yarn in the clothing field. During the 1930's we pioneered in the development of rayon staple, which has given the American public the many beautiful new spun rayon fabrics that are among the most popular on the market today. In 1938 we commenced the production and sale of high-strength types of viscose yarn, which we call "Rayflex" and "Tenasco." These are the yarns that have been of such tremendous help to the war effort for use in parachutes, tire fabric, tow targets, and self-sealing gasoline tanks. These are but a few of the many important developments that our research and technical men have brought to fruition. They are now, as always, busily at work perfecting new improvements that will increase still more the usefulness, and popularity of rayon.
Sale of The Company to American Investors
During this long period of expansion the company was owned by its founders, Samuel Courtauld & Co., of England. A very important change took place early in the year 1941, however, when Courtauld's ownership of the company came to an end. At that time Great Britain had been at war for more than a year and had been purchasing many millions of dollars worth of munitions and war equipment from the United States. Toward the end of 1940 it became evident that Great Britain needed more United States funds with which to help pay for its purchases here. To obtain these funds the British Treasury took over Courtauld's shares in our company and sold them to a group of American investment bankers, who then sold new shares in the American Viscose Corporation to American private investors. Thus, the ownership of the company passed from Samuel Courtauld & Co. to the group of about 15,000 American citizens and organizations who are our present stockholders. They include both men and women, churches, universities, fire insurance companies, teachers, doctors and many other kinds of people, all of whom bought our stock because they have faith in the soundness and future growth of our company.
Looking Toward the Future
Today, our company, which started on so small a scale back in 1910, is the leading rayon producer in the entire United States. Ouroutput today represents about one third of all the rayon produced in this country. The story of the company's growth is one that is typical of America, and one in which we and hundreds of our friends have played a vital part. The future of our industry is full of promise. The textile industries need more of our wonderful fiber than the present equipment of the rayon industry can produce. Research work is continually developing new 'Uses for rayon and it is expected that its consumption will continue to expand.
Our company has already announced its plans to expand the Meadville and Nitro plants as soon as the needed equipment can be obtained. Other new plants will undoubtedly be needed. Competition will be intensified, but our united effort should keep our company in its position of leadership, won and held by hard work during the past. Rayon is still a growing industry. All of us who form part of the American Viscose Corporation group can look forward to sharing in its future.
AMERICAN VISCOSE COMPANY SOLD
In 1963 the American Viscose Company was sold to the FMC Corporation on November 14th 1974 the Parkersburg WV FMC Plant closed