Based in Reading, Pennsylvania, the Althouse Chemical Company was founded in 1915 by C. Scott Althouse (1880-1970) as a small, family-owned firm specializing in fabric dyes. Over time, Althouse acquired both the Bates Chemical Company and the Crompton & Knowles Corporation and focused on the production of a limited range of dye colors of a superior quality and class. The Althouse, Bates, and Crompton photograph collection includes images of the instrumentation and facilities used in the manufacture of dyes, specifically the Customer Service and Quality Control Laboratory where employees tested the durability and "wash-fastness" of dyed fabric.
The first thing you may notice about these photographs is the style of dress, particularly on the women. Given that they are working in a laboratory to test the quality of dyed fabrics, it seems a bit unusual for them to be wearing dresses and heels with no protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles, aprons, or lab coats. Not exactly the kind of dress science teachers would want you to wear if you worked in a lab! Based on their style of dress, we might conclude that these women were prepared for their photo to be taken and that the scene perhaps was staged for publicity purposes rather than depicting the realities of their everyday work.
In contrast, the men seem more casually dressed in an array of styles. In some photographs, they are wearing plain white T-shirts and dress pants, while in others they are dressed in collared shirts and ties. One photograph even shows two men wearing suit jackets. For the men, the variety of dress suggests varying roles in the company. For example, those wearing jackets and ties may have worked in some kind of higher-up, administrative role compared to the men who are dressed more casually in T-shirts and pants.The men wearing T-shirts are most likely manual laborers who worked directly with the equipment depicted in the photographs.
Although these photographs only offer a snapshot of what working in quality control labs in the 1950s and 1960s was like, we can make some inferences about the roles of men and women based on their style of dress and the equipment with which they are working. For the men who are dressed more casually, it seems reasonable to assume that their work was more labor-intensive, an inference supported by the large machinery present in some of the photographs.
In contrast to the men, the women are all dressed more or less the same. One or two women are wearing sneakers or aprons, but most have on nice outfits and dress shoes. Also, the women seemed to be more focused analytical tasks involving dyes rather than the machinery and fabrics.
From these photographs, we might make certain conclusion about the roles of men and women in the Althouse, Bates, and Crompton laboratories during this time and perhaps the dye industry more generally. While more research is required to support any conclusions, these photographs offer a variety of avenues to learning more about laboratory work and the manufacture of dyes and other industrial products in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although we can make assumptions about why everyone is dressed the way that they are and their roles in the laboratory and company, we still want to back up these assumptions with other sources.
Here are some questions you might ask as you prepare to do further research:
1. Who are the women in the photographs? Are their names documented anywhere?
2. Who are the men in the photographs? Are their names documented anywhere?
3. What are the women doing?
4. What are the men doing? How does the work of the men and women differ?
5. Why is no one wearing any protective equipment?
6. Why are some people dressed more casually than others?
7. What was the purpose for taking these photographs? Was it to document work in the laboratory? Was it for publicity or another purpose?
8. Who was the intended audience of these photographs? Was it a consumer or someone within the company?
9. How many people worked for the company? Did it have other laboratories besides the ones pictured here?
10. Does this company still exist? If so, what are these laboratories like now?