Buffalo Color Corporation
Buffalo Color Corps was originally founded as part of the National Aniline and Chemical Company in the 1880s. By WWI it was the largest producer of dyes in the United States, consisting of 36 acres of land on which 30 factory buildings stood. In addition to a wide range of dyes, additional products including resins, plasticizers, and food coloring were introduced, including the first synthetic detergent. By WWII, the National Aniline and Chemical Company was manufacturing khaki, navy, and camouflage dyes, insect repellents, detergents, and anti-malarial drugs for the war effort.
Relaxed tariffs on dye imports in the 1960s coupled with increasingly stringent environmental regulations in the 1970s crippled the plant's ability to compete, and National Aniline's Buffalo plant became Buffalo Color in 1976, specializing in indigo dye for blue jeans. At its height Buffalo Color consisted of 63 acres and employed 3,000 people. Once again, lax tariffs and poor enforcement doomed the plant - this time, illegal Chinese imports flooded the united states at half the price. Buffalo Color was successful at halting the imports through lobbying for tariffs and even regained nearly 75% of the domestic market by 2001, but illegal Chinese indigo shipments returned at a quarter of Buffalo Color Corp's price, now being sent via Mexico or South Korea. Buffalo Color Corp pursued legal action, and their cause was even championed by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who claimed that the Bush administration refused to investigate the matter or enforce trading laws. In 2003, Buffalo Color Corp was no longer able to withstand the impact of the trade imbalances and closed.
After the closure the location became a Superfund site, as indigo dye production is highly toxic. Sitting empty for years, it was remediated successfully in 2010 and many of the structures were demolished. It currently is slated to become home to a steel and railway museum, memorializing the industries that helped found the city.
The trip to the Buffalo Color Corp. was a bit of a strange one. After gaining entry to the plant we were confronted with a labyrinth of pipes, and ample evidence of the presence of toxic chemicals. Indigo dye dust coated some of the areas and was almost impossible to get off one's clothes. The worst part was that there was someone working directly outside the plant for quite some time, only about 10 feet away. When we had the opportunity to make a break for it we did so quickly. As we left the property there were two people spying on the plant with binoculars (?!) behind a nearby train. They told us that the mafia was operating the place and that they were storing all sorts of toxic waste there instead of disposing of it properly. I have no idea how credible that is but there were certainly a good number of plastic barrels full of chemicals there, and they seemed to be stored there more recently than the plant closure.
Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.