• FA-121694 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-121695 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-121696 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-121697 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-121698 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Textiles and Clothing
1900 - 1909
At the moment this object is not published in the museum.

Book of samples with uniform fabrics for the British Army, 1901-1902


Stand out or be camouflaged? For a long time soldiers were made to wear brightly coloured uniforms, but it was only in the late 19th century that there was a gradual transition to ‘military grey’ and ‘khaki’.

For decades French troops marched into battle wearing red uniform trousers. The fabric was dyed using natural madder roots cultivated in the south of France and elsewhere. But in 1870 their dye, alizarin or madder red, was being manufactured synthetically from coal tar by a number of German chemists; as a result, cultivating madder was no longer economically viable. By contrast the makers of uniforms for the British Army turned to a colonial product, i.e. Indian indigo. But it too ultimately had to give way to a product that resulted from research into coal-tar dyes. Adolf von Bayer developed a process for manufacturing synthetic indigo which the Badische Anilin- und Sodafabrik (BASF) launched onto the market in 1897. At that time the area in India under cultivation for indigo was around 650,000 hectares. In order to safeguard the interests of their plantation owners, the British government stipulated that this natural product be used for its navy uniforms. They are shown here in this particular object of the Technisches Museum Wien. Nonetheless, within a matter of years, the area under cultivation shrank to a quarter of its size as synthetic indigo began to establish itself on the market.

The development of the dye industry became a ‘battle’ between European nations and its tone was at times certainly martial. In 1904/05 the companies BASF, Agfa and Bayer joined forces to form a ‘triple alliance’, with two other companies constituting a ‘dual alliance’. Shortly before the First World War companies from the German Empire were supplying around three quarters of the world’s production of synthetic dyes. In 1925 they merged yet again to form another interest group, I.G. Farben, which became the largest chemical company in the world. It later went on to play a significant economic role during the Nazi era.

Date of origin: 1901-1902

Inv.Nr. 82918
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