Harold M. Chase

Fifth Olney Medalist 1948
Dan River Mills, Danville, Va.

Following is the presentation given by P. J. Wood to introduce Harold M. Chase as the Fifth Olney Medalist,

“Harold M. Chase was born in Dracut, Massachusetts. After attending schools in his native town, he spent four years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving the degree of BS in Chemical Engineering in 1894. After one year and summer school in post­graduate work he was awarded the BS in Chemistry. The chemical engineering course was admittedly one of the stiffest courses at M.I.T. and one of his friends declares that he always said that he took this course more for the intellectual challenge that it offered than for any other appeal. In extra­curricular activities, the same mental urge was evident. We learn that the thirst for knowledge led him to the hills and mountains to botanize and select minerals, to know the fauna and fauna at first hand.”

Dr. Charles Greely Abbott, the distinguished secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, was one of his classmates who rivaled Chase in the race for academic honors and the competition between them was very keen.”

In his post­graduate years, he worked for Dr. Arthur A. Noyes, an eminent chemist who did so much to establish the Theory of Dissolution.”

For most people, this would seem to constitute an ample education, but not so with our friend. In later years, we find him taking special courses in Petrographic Microscopy and Analytical Microscopy during the years 1929 to 1934 in a further quest for knowledge, at a great expense of time and effort, involving laboratory work and study nights, after a long day’s work in the mill, and by driving from Danville, Va., to Chapel Hill, N.C. on weekends. Again, in 1946 and 1947, he took extension courses in Radio and Electronics in Danville, Va.”

Figure: Courtesy American Dyestuff Reporter

In 1895, he received an invitation from a Mr. Hugh MacRae, also a graduate of M.I.T. class of 1885, to manage a small dyehouse in Wilmington, N.C. Although his education, up to this time, had been purely theoretical, he took the job, in spite of the fact that he had never seen the inside of a dyehouse.”

Regarding this episode in the life of our friend, one of his classmates reports: “When I arrived in Wilmington a couple of months later, I found that Chase had not only completely taken charge of the dyeing and reduced costs, but had trained a second hand to handle the routine work while he, Chase, was making studies of the cotton manufacturing process as a whole. Further, he was giving courses in applied spherical trigonometry with examples and demonstrations on the fine pool and billiard tables of the Cape Fear Club. Also select groups were taking post­graduate studies with is active assistance and co­operation on the Theory of Probabilities, illustrated by the Combinations and Permutations possible in a deck of cards.”

The use of natural dyestuffs was still quite common at that time and the colors employed in the dyehouse run by Mr. Chase were indigo, which was ground in a small hand mill and vatted with zinc, bisulfate and lime, for the blue shades, logwood, cutch and fustic for blacks and browns. The brighter shades were obtained with some of the early direct colors and with basic colors dyed on sumac and tartar emetic.”

Raw stock was dyed by poling the cotton in open tubs. Mr. MacRae and his chemist associate experimented with a method of dyeing picker laps, which were dyed on beams, a system analogous with that used for dyeing warps at the present time.”

They had plenty of trouble due to air spots and various mechanical difficulties but these were successfully corrected and they not only supplied the mill with dyed raw cotton of unusually good spinning quality but also considerable business with neighboring mills.”

They also developed a new method of mercerizing chain warps under tension which operated very successfully until the plant was destroyed by fire, as mentioned below.”

Of this time, Mr. Chase reports that the overcoming of many difficulties encountered during these years of his life proved to be of inestimable value in later years. The dyeing enterprise was carried on in an old abandoned foundry which had been used for casting cannon during the War between the States and was by no means ideal for the purpose. Mr. Chase was obliged to serve as mechanical and chemical engineer and assistant superintendent in the mill.”

Mr. MacRae was interested in a great many things besides the making and dyeing of cotton goods, among them was the idea of recovering the turpentine from stumps and lumber waste from a cut­over long­leaf pine forest nearby. After the depression caused the closing of the cotton mill, following a disastrous fire, turpentine project was continued.” Wood Distillation USPatent for a retort 1,200,606 Filed 1913

During the installation of a new gas plant in the city of Wilmington, Mr. Chase was called upon to operate the antiquated plant heretofore used. He ran this successfully until the new plant was completed, thus demonstrating his capacity of meeting unusual emergencies.”

For ten years after the closing of the mill, our Medalist was connected with Mr. MacRae in various interesting projects, the development of a power project on the Pee Dee River being one of them; another was the colonization of 70,000 acres by foreign colonists.

After these varied experiences, he finally returned to the textile industry in 1917, being employed by the Dan River Mills as chemist and assistant superintendent of dyeing. His first assignment was the supervision of the operation of a small dyestuff plant for supplying the mills with dyestuff in short supply due to the first World War. He had no previous experience in the manufacturing of dyestuffs, although he was familiar with the chemical reactions involved. He bravely tackled the job and succeeded in making an excellent brand of Primuline. This process was later sold to the Newport Chemical Works, and the product is still manufactured by one of the world’s largest dyestuff manufacturers under the name Primuline RD; RD signifying Riverside and Dan River. He also made a Sulphur Yellow 2G, and an important intermediate dehydrothiotoluidine.”

In 1919 Mr. Chase became Chief Chemist and Superintendent of Dyeing, and in the succeeding years Dan River led the industry in many modern developments. He designed what probably was and still may be the largest raw stock dyehouse in the world, with a capacity of over 750,000 lbs. of cotton per week. He introduced the system of blowing hot air into the dyehouse to dispel the fog. This proved to be the first practical system of its kind, and has served as a model for modern types of dyehouse ventilation.”

A tribute must be paid to the Medalist for one outstanding contribution he has made to many individuals and to the entire industry. From the very earliest days of his association with Dan River Mills, he has made it a practice to employ the graduates of textile schools and train them for responsible positions in the various departments of the mills. Due to his natural ability as a teacher and the inspiration of his kindly leadership, many of these Chase graduates are occupying important positions, not only in Dan River Mills, but throughout the textile industry.”

Under Mr. Chase’s direction many revolutionary processes were invented, among which may be mentioned the long chain continuous indigo dyeing process, which he patented (with George W. Robertson in 1924), the vat pigment continuous dyeing method patented by Glenn F. Womble of Dan River Research Department and the fiber­bonded process patented by Dr. H. Y. Jennings of the same department. A paper on the latter process was presented by Mr. Chase at the AATCC Convention in Atlantic City in 1945. Other developments are the well-known “Wrinkle Shed” creaseless finish, and water­repellant finishes.”

Mr. Chase is a charter member of the AATCC and was the second chairman of the Southern, afterwards the Piedmont, Section. He is also a member of the American Chemical Society and the Virginia Academy of Science.”

This is my brief. This is the story of a long and useful life. Our Medalist has earned the recognition of his fellows and richly has he merited the honor which is about to be conferred on him. Q. E. D.”

P. J. Wood, “Harold M. Chase, The Scientist,” American Dyestuff Reporter, April 4, 1949