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National Lead Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

National Lead Company

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The National Lead Company, now known as NL Industries, began business in Philadelphia in 1772. Several lead manufacturers banded together and incorporated as the National Lead Company in 1891. The company has been well known for its white-lead paints, sold since 1907 under the Dutch Boy label. Over the twentieth century, the company has produced many other products, including titanium dioxide paint, atomic bomb elements, and ball-bearing slides.

During the 1920s National Lead manufactured solder, pipes, and bearing metals. Its lead was an important ingredient in the technological development of telephone wiring and automobile parts, for example. During that era, National Lead engaged in some mining as well as in purchasing stocks of lead internationally. In the early 1920s National Lead began experimenting with titanium dioxide, a bright white pigment, as a new base for paint. By the middle of the decade National Lead was the largest lead company in the United States. In 1929 the company’s president claimed that 100,000 tons of lead were under continuous manufacture at National Lead’s plants. Net income was $4.9 million in 1927 and $5.2 million in 1935.

National Lead began expanding its business in titanium dioxide products during the 1930s and 1940s. The company mined titanium ores for production of titanium alloys, metals, and pigments. The company prospered after the Second World War. Net income was $5.2 million in 1943; it increased to $47.9 million in 1955.

National Lead also worked on atomic bombs on behalf of the U.S. government during the 1940s and 1950s. Along with other private companies like Dow and Westinghouse, National Lead contributed to safety systems as well as to weapons. For example, a National Lead plant in Fernald, Ohio, produced high-purity uranium and researched nuclear fuel reprocessing. During the 1970s many of its weapons plants were found to be contaminated. In the late 1980s the government and a subsidiary of NL agreed to a multi-billion dollar cleanup plan.

National Lead had mostly ceased mining by the 1950s and instead bought its ore and scrap metal stocks from suppliers. It acquired a large portion of its ores from mines in the Adirondacks, Quebec, Norway, Australia, and Cuba. Paint and pigments comprised 35 percent of the business in the early 1950s. The company also sold products for the manufacture of castor oil, rayon, airplanes, and oil drills. National Lead acquired Doehler-Jarvis in 1953 and began devoting 20 percent of its business to die-cast metal manufacture.

National Lead continued its diversification and expansion into lead- and titanium-related businesses during the 1960s. Its main products, though, remained Dutch Boy paint, metals and bearings, titanium products and pigments, die castings, and oil well products. Net income in 1965 was $61 million. In 1969 net income was $51 million. The company issued $100 million in bonds in 1971 to facilitate the construction of many chemical plants, among them a Utah magnesium plant, multiple chloride-process plants, and an oil well chemical plant in Texas. Net income for 1974 reached $78 million. That marked the sixty-ninth consecutive year in which the company paid dividends.

National Lead Company changed its name to NL Industries in 1971. The company’s base remains in Houston, Texas. NL Industries has been hit with many lawsuits over its lead paints and products since the late 1980s.

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