The emergence of synthetic dyes

Until the mid-19th century, certain plants were used to provide the raw materials for dyeing - in Elbeuf the dyers used madder, weld, and walnut. They would have to wait until the 1850s to see the expansion of the use of the first synthetic dyes, such as aniline and fuchsine.
The science of chemistry quickly became a vital tool for the dyeing industry and large companies were set up, such as the German company BASF (Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik).

At the same time, dyeing workshops (both specialist dyers and those integrated in the huge factories) also turned to chemistry - in Elbeuf, both models worked side-by-side. The empirical methods inherited from the past could no longer satisfy the new technical demands, so practices became more precise and scientific. It was then that chemists such as Albert Cerfon were recruited by the dyers, with their laboratories being used mainly to create new dyes rather than testing those sold by the chemical industry.

If, as before, dyeing flock wool was preferred to dyeing skeins or lengths, the large-scale arrival of chemistry coincided with a revolution in production methods. As for the other stages in the manufacture of textiles, the mechanisation of the dyeing process spread with the introduction of autoclaves, the development of high pressure sealed vessels, and the rationalisation of rinsing.

The Musée d’Elbeuf has a large collection of photographs showing local industrial practices in the 19th century.