The superior processes introduced into industry, in modern times, by the knowledge of chemistry, has led to the establishment of various branches of manufacture, and made them of great importance, though they deal with articles which were formerly either entirely unknown, or disregarded as of no value.
Glue, in the modern industrial world, is a case in point. Like many of the important things in industry, it has heretofore been overlooked; and though the world would suffer, to-day, much less in its comforts and conveniences of living from a loss of all its gold and silver than from that of its glue, yet this fact would be most probably overlooked by the large majority of those whose well being is so intimately dependent upon its abundant and cheap supply.
Yet, in fact, glue is absolutely indispensable to the arts of modern industry, and as yet no substitute has been found to take its place. Without it, turpentine and petroleum would escape from the barrels which now contain them, and be lost. The very paper on which we write would, but for glue, make nothing but a series of blots; and so on through all the series of domestic or household arts.
But very little is known of the history of glue-making. Formerly the artist and artisan made themselves what little glue they wanted. The semi-civilized peoples made it in a simple way, by boiling pieces of skin. Fish sounds, that is, the bladder of the fish, now called isinglass, or fish glue, has from the time immemorial been known as a substance from which glue could be made, and has been used for this purpose.
In modern times glue is made from hides, skins, sinews, and tendons of animals. In the process of tanning and currying the skins a large amount of cuttings and trimmings is removed. These clippings are placed to soak in a strong solution of lime-water. This treatment disposes them to dissolve readily under the application of heat, removes at the same time the fat, flesh, and hair, acts as an antiseptic, and removes all traces of putrefaction.
After trimmings are thus cleaned, they are then washed and dried, and laid away for perfect dessication. When perfectly dried, they are taken, in autumn and spring,—for glue cannot be made in summer,—and placed in a vat or kettle, and reduced to a liquid glue, either by the direct action of fire or by steam. The liquid is then drawn off, strained, into a vat, where it is allowed to settle. Then it is placed in boxes, or tin dishes, and allowed to cool into a tremulous jelly, which it generally becomes after standing about ten or fifteen hours.
It is then, by a very simple contrivance, removed and sliced into sheets, which are placed on nets of cotton or flax, stretched upon wooden frames, and exposed, either in the open air or in well-aired buildings, to dry. The process of drying occupies generally about two weeks. When dried, it is placed in lofts to season, and is then ready for market.
In England, owing to the greater dampness of the climate, glue becomes dull or mouldy in appearance. To remove this, each sheet, after it is dry, is washed, to give it a glazed look. The greater dryness of our climate renders this operation unnecessary here.
The quality of glue is judged of by its adhesiveness, and by the amount of surface it can cover when used as a size. A clear, hard, horny appearance when broken is an indication of good quality; but no rule can be given which is always reliable. The reputation of the manufacturer, and the reliance placed on his marks, are the only sure guarantees as to quality or value.
Not only is the manufacturer of glue an important one for the value of its product, but it is also worthy of consideration for its incidental conservation of the public health, since it takes from the tanner and the butcher, when fresh, materials which, if not so disposed of, would ferment, rot, and become a serious danger to the hygienic conditions of the community.
An opinion generally prevails that bones, hoofs, horns, and dead animals are used in the manufacture of glue. This is, however, erroneous. There is not glue enough in dead animals to pay for the expense of handling them, nor is there any in hoofs and horns. Occasionally, where acids are cheap, bones are used; but in this country they are too valuable for other purposes to be used in making glue.
The amount of capital invested in the United States in the glue business is about eight million dollars, and yearly product made to about ten million dollars. In order to carry on the business, large outlays must be made for the buildings and fixtures, while the time required in the processes, and the short periods during which glue can be made, do not allow quick return. One half to two thirds of the value of glue is labor.
There are numerous firms in the United States engaged in the manufacture of glue, scattered from Maine to California, but for the most part located east of the Alleghanies. The largest in the country, or in the world, is the Riverside Glue Works, on the Delaware River, Philadelphia, and owned by Baeder, Adamson & Co. This concern was founded by Mr. Charles Baeder, in 1828, and has grown from small proportions to its present size, employing some eight hundred men and boys, and is a model of industrial organization.
This branch of manufacture is comparatively new in this country, or in any other. Formerly it was customary for the trades using sand paper constantly, to make it for themselves, as they needed it, out of ordinary brown paper, glue, and sand. This is done yet in some parts of Europe.
The business was organized by Messrs. Baeder, Adamson & Co., who make their own paper out of old rope, use the best quality of glue, and pulverize the quartz or flints used in it. By this means they are enabled to furnish so superior an article, of a constantly uniform grade, at so low a price,—some being as low as half a cent a sheet,—that the demand for it has become universal, large quantities being exported to Europe, South America, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere.
The amount made in the United States is very large, amounting to about two hundred thousand reams yearly, requiring a capital of at least five hundred thousand dollars. Emery paper and emery cloth are made by the same firm, a large demand for them being created by the nice iron work in the steam engine, the sewing machine, and other similar industries which require them for polishing purposes.
Horace Greely, et al.
The Great Industries of the United States – 1872