One hundred years ago this month, the death was announced of Sir Ivan Levinstein at his home in Hale at the age of seventy one.Born in Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin, he had been in Manchester for over fifty years and would leave behind a legacy in the North East of Manchester, establishing the village of Blackley as the centre of the UK aniline dyeing industry.

About Manchester takes a look at his career and life.

The young Ivan had been brought up in a family trying to make its way in what was to become the new German Empire.His father’s Calico Printing Factory had failed and he became a financial and political correspondent as well as an advisor to the Rothschilds.

Trying to find favour with Bismark, and once again failing, he sent his children abroad.Ivan had been educated at Berlin’s Gewerbeinstitut where he had studied the new process of making aniline dyes and joined his father initially in a factory Ivan senior had set up in Berlin making synthetic dyes before journeying to Blackley where the dyeing industry had laid its foundations back in the 1780’s in 1864 at a time when South East Lancashire was the heart of the UK’s dyeing industry.

His Company started small to begin with supplying aniline dyes for the local textile trade.But Ivan was also a salesman, quickly laying the foundations of a flourishing business, and soon began to identify himself conspicuously with the industry and commerce of the city, where he would form two particularly important relationships, associating himself also with the active direction of other chemical enterprises like those of the Ammonia Soda Company of Plumbley, and Murgatroyd’s Salt Company, of Middlewich.

In 1887 at the Great Manchester exhibition, he was the active promoter of the fine chemical exhibit and around the same time founded and was for a while the editor of the country’s first technical journal, the Chemical Review.

By the end of the decade Levinstein had opened what was at the time the largest chemical factory in the country at the Blackley site, by the outbreak of the First World War, under the stewardship of his son Herbert,it was making over five thousand tons of chemicals in over one hundred and fifty different colours.

Levinstein himself had almost with hindsight see that war coming, recognising the growing power of industrial Germany and was instrumental in what became the 1907 Patent Amendment Act which was designed primarily to deal with German competition and prevented foreign firms setting up in Britain without a patent.

He also undertook many successful actions against certain of the great German chemical firms in order to compel them to grant licences to manufacturers to work their patents in this country. As he once said,-“they had patented the whole field of organic chemistry by their astute method of drafting their patents.”

When the Act was passed, the then Chancellor Lloyd George, came to Manchester and in a speech praised Ivan on his tenacity and courage in carrying out his campaign over twenty years.

Levinstein played a huge role in Manchester’s Industrial life at the turn of the twentieth century. For many years he was a director of the Chamber of Commerce, vice president of the Manchester chemical club and was vice president of the Tariff league as well as connections with the Manchester Institute, the technical school and the School of Technology.

He was a member of the Court of Manchester University who gave him an honorary degree in Technical Science in recognition of his many services to that subject.

The Company that he left behind under his son Herbert would flourish, filling the gap in the market for synthetic dyes after German imports ran dry in 1914.New facilities were set up for the manufacture of khaki and black dyes but would also be controversially associated with the use of poison gas and flaming liquids during the conflict.

After the war the government encouraged the amalgamation of the British Dyeing industry and the Blackley works would form part of the new British Dyes Company.By 1926 it was part of what would become ICI.

The site that was known locally as the place of eleven stinks would continue to manufacture chemicals up to the 1990’s.At its height it covered a 500 acre site along the River Irk employing over sixteen hundred employees and Blackley would become the site for ICI’s Hexagon Tower, opened in 1973, the design of its windows representing the chemical compound Benzene, the basis for synthetic dyes and would form the headquarters of ICI’s Colour’s division.

 

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