Philadelphia was America’s leading textile manufacturing center in the late 19th century, and Presto Dyechem was already an established contributor to city’s biggest industry.
Presto, of course, wasn’t the firm’s name back then. It was Andreykovicz & Dunk Dyestuffs, one of many small- and medium-size businesses contributing to the enormous output of Philly’s textile mills.
At the turn of that century, roughly 700 companies operated in textiles, employing some 60,000 people. Philadelphia factories turned out everything from carpets to blankets, rope to silk stockings, tapestries to military cloth.
Andreykovicz & Dunk was a successful business early on because it combined dyes that met customers’ expectations and specifications in volumes large and small for those many different textile products.
The pair, who founded the company in 1863, were forward thinking entrepreneurs.
Charles S. Dunk was a farmhand for his father and neighbor of “the” Wanamakers in the Passyunk section of Philadelphia until his late 30s. The family were also weavers of local willow wood for baskets, a big business of the day.
Genealogical research suggests Julius Andreykovicz, a chemist by trade who lived in the Mount Airy area of Philadelphia, may have joined Dunk because his skills in the uses of aniline and indigo dyes were a good match for Dunk’s work with baskets. Imagine those two entrepreneurs putting color on baskets for the local and export trade. It’s not a big leap to think the pair was well-positioned for Philadelphia’s emerging carpet and textile trade.
Soon after founding their Philadelphia operation, Andreykovicz and Dunk expanded operations to Chicago as manufacturers, chemists and importers of dyestuffs. Dunk likely bought the present Presto building in 1893.
They weren’t shy about letting the city know who they were. In 1914, Andreykovicz & Dunk made a contribution of dyes to The School of Industrial Art, affiliated with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which supported the growth of the textile trade. Through the magic of Google, you could look it up.
The firm continued mixing dyes into the mid-1960s at its 60 N. Front St. location when the company was bought by Ray Ellison. He developed a sea-dye marker manufacturing division that has since been a trusted supplier to the U.S. military. He also updated the company’s name.
Today, Presto’s dyestuff product line remains specialized in support of the textile trade. It has continued to diversify its product mix, including manufacturing convenient tablets that trace water leaks and for use in medical testing procedures.
The company is still a family business, still at 60 N. Front. Peter Ellison – and now his sons – run the brick rowhouse shop in its four floors. Front Street has changed. It’s largely residential. Gone is the rope factory next store. Interstate 95 is just a soft toss from the front door. But the mission remains: reliable specialty dye products at a competitive price delivered with exceptional service.
Brian Geverd, member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, and distant relative of Charles Dunk