The Carbona Products Company was founded sometime around the turn of the century but the actual start date is not clear. The company’s initial product was a first of it’s kind non-flammable stain remover called Carbona, the trade name for carbon tetrachloride. Up to that point clothing and fabric stains were treated with gasoline which resulted in a significant number of household fires and explosions.
Ernest C Klipstein, the company’s first president began importing carbon tetrachloride from Germany as a dry cleaning and spot removal solvent as early as 1898 (some documents say 1888) and I’ve seen Carbona listed in a Riker’s Drug Store advertisement as early as 1904. However,the first mention of the company that I could find is in a 1907 issue of the Druggist and Pharmaceutical record where the address was given as 80 William Street, New York.
Benzin is altogether too dangerous to be carried in stock, as it’s history has abundantly shown. A good substitute for it is Carbona, which is absolutely unburnable. This product is manufactured by the Carbona Product Company, of 80 William Street, New York.
Shortly thereafter, the company moved to Newark New Jersey where they incorporated in 1907 with capital of $700,000 and Klipstein as president. The business was listed in the Newark Directories from 1908 to 1911 at 5 Burnet Street. During this time I can’t find a New York listing for them.
Then, in 1912, they returned to New York and it appears that they operated a significant portion of the business there over the next several decades. That year they were listed at 148 West 23rd Street and then between 1915 and 1925 their address was listed in the directories at 302 W 26th Street. At times during this period they also used 5 East 43rd Street as an address.
Sometime in the 1920’s they moved their operation to Queens. An article in the February 5, 1921 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that they were establishing a factory in Long Island City.
Announcement has just been made that the factory of the Carbona Company, a non-explosive cleaning preparation, is to be established on Van Alst Avenue in Long Island City. The office of the Company is now located at 5 East 43rd Street, Manhattan. The management plans to come to Long Island City in order to get more room and larger accommodations to meet the increasing demand for their product.
Then another article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, this one on April 17, 1947 announced:
The Carbona Products Co. of New York has acquired for occupancy the railroad siding property including building, located on the block front of Greenpoint Avenue and Review Avenue in Long Island City, for the processing and distribution of its products.
The brand name was acquired in 1994 by Delta Pronatura and still exists today. According to their web site, Delta Pronatura is the leading manufacturer of stain removal and household cleaning products throughout Europe.
In addition to stressing it’s non-flammable properties, early Carbona advertisements called the product a cleaning fluid that removed grease spots without injury to fabric or color. Carbon Tetrachloride was the first chlorinated solvent used in dry cleaning operations and was commonly used in dry cleaning by the 1930’s, so there’s a lot of truth in their advertising.
The company made a number of other non-flammable products as well. A 1908 item in the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record listed Carbona as well as Carbona Liquid Soap, Carbona Cream, Carbona White Satin, a polish for silver and Carbona Black Satin, a polish for stoves.
By the 1930’s, it appears that cleaning people’s leather shoes was not enough and they started manufacturing shoe polish as well.
On a side note, in the 1960’s and 1970’s sniffing Carbona was one way to get a cheap high. A 1970 issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine stated:
Carbona sniffing seems to be increasingly popular among adolescents, and its use in a group that has abused other drugs complicates an already difficult situation.
80 William Street and 302 West 26th Street in Manhattan, as well as 5 Burnet Street in Newark, all no longer exist.
The bottle I found is a twelve ribbed machine made bottle with “Carbona” embossed on the base. It’s probably from the late teens or 1920’s.