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Rolf Dessauer papers

Creation: 1930-1998
Accession: 2451


Rolf Dessauer (1926-) was a research chemist who specialized in dyes. He began a lengthy career with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company in 1952 as a research chemist at Jackson Laboratory, DuPont’s center for dye research. Dessauer invented chemistry in which exposure to visible light stabilized the background enabling dark and light areas to retain their contrast. Intense research and patent studies led Dessauer and his colleagues to a new technology, UVI – Ultraviolet Imaging. Dessauer's papers document his career as a noted scientist and chemist.


  • Creation: 1930-1998



26.5 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Rolf Dessauer was born in Nürnberg, Germany, in 1926 and came to the United States in 1939. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dessauer’s lengthy career with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company began in September 1952 as a research chemist at Jackson Laboratory, DuPont’s center for dye research until 1980. He was assigned to find new applications for dye-like materials, and in a joint program with ALCOA developed novel dyes for aluminum. Work with DuPont’s Textile Fibers Department led to new ultraviolet screening agents, and the commercial product RYLEX®D. Dessauer worked with DuPont's Plastics Department and successfully developed lightfast colors for DuPont’s commercial automotive glass interliner, BUTACITE®. By 1958, he was part of a small group of scientists, under the leadership of G.R. Coraor, who worked on innovative photochemistry at DuPont’s Experimental Station research laboratory in Wilmington, Delaware. Dessauer and his colleague L.A. Cescon explored the chemistry of a group of free-radical forming compounds known as hexaarylbiimidazoles (HABIs). These new photochromic materials were originally intended for the automotive industry, but when it was discovered that they could photolytically convert leucodyes to color, as well as initiate polymerization, a much larger market loomed ahead.

By 1961, Dessauer and his colleagues had discovered that these unique materials could be coated on paper or film. They realized they could form colored patterns by exposing this proprietary mix of chemicals to ultraviolet light. A. MacLauchlan, of the DuPont Radiation Physics Lab, working with Dessauer, invented chemistry in which exposure to visible light stabilized the background enabling dark and light areas to retain their contrast. Intense research and patent studies led Dessauer and his colleagues to a new technology, UVI – Ultraviolet Imaging. This term was used until late 1968 when the trade name DYLUX® Instant Access Imaging Materials was selected.

Initially, DuPont’s Photo Products Department failed to see market opportunities for this exceptional material that was photographically slow, formed dye, rather than silver images, but required no development and could be handled in ambient light. However, Dessauer never gave up on the ideas of coated papers, and kept the program alive. In marketing campaigns DYLUX was touted as one of the most important research breakthroughs because of its many capabilities in the world of new proofing products. Due to its simplicity and ease of use, proof production rates could increase four to six times over those of a wet or heat-processed proofing system.

When it was shown that HABIs were an extremely effective component of photopolymer films, the Photo Products Department made them the initiators of choice in many new products. Several hexaarylbiimidazoles were commercialized by DuPont and have since been cited in more than 1,500 U.S. patents issued to DuPont and other companies.

HABIs have been employed in the manufacture of proofing materials, printed circuits, printing plates, medical imaging applications, and holographic films. Dessauer’s work led to the incorporation of HABIs in highly successful ground-breaking products, such as DYLUX proof papers, CROMALIN® multicolor proofing products, CROMACHECK® overlay proofing films, and RISTON® photoresists, which have had total sales in excess of several billion dollars.

Chemistry has been the foundation of Dessauer’s career. In the early 1970s, the Delaware Section of the American Chemical Society organized Project Tetrahedron, directed at developing a Chemical Science Center in Delaware. In time, Dessauer headed the committee and with funding from the National Science Foundation, enlisted the University of Delaware’s Division of Technical Services to prepare a feasibility study for the building and implementation of a chemical science center (Feasibility Study for a Chemical Science Center, 1975). The need for a center to promote chemistry was clearly seen during a period when many established products, such as Freon® refrigerants and Tetraethyl Lead had to be withdrawn because of environmental concerns. Plans to locate this center in Delaware could not be realized as the DuPont Company felt that this would not be a desirable location. The Chemical Science Center was never established, but the Chemical Heritage Foundation, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, serves a similar function.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Dessauer’s duties with the company were geared toward identifying additional opportunities for the HABI-based technology; this resulted in a photodecoration product for the furniture and leather industries, labels for UPC applications, production of color television tubes, and medical identification systems.

In 1987, Dessauer participated in a joint venture between DuPont and the Xerox Corporation, which resulted in DX-Imaging. The new company was organized to manufacture products for the electronic imaging market. Initially it operated at existing DuPont and Xerox facilities but established offices and a manufacturing plant west of Philadelphia in 1988. The new company focused on adapting liquid toner technology of DuPont and Xerox to high-resolution color proofing and color printing, employing xeroprinting masters which were based on HABI technology. In 1994, Dessauer and J.V. Caspar invented a proofing system that could be activated with Near Infrared Lasers. Dessauer retired in 1991 but continued work as a consultant to DuPont until 2010.

Dessauer was recognized for his determination and dedication in finding new ways to use successful discoveries, some of which had been previously labeled unsuccessful. DuPont rewarded Dessauer’s accomplishments and presented him with the Pedersen Award in 2001, one of the two highest scientific awards presented by the company and named in honor of DuPont Chemist and Nobel Laureate, Charles J. Pedersen. (Charles Pedersen is the only DuPont chemist to be awarded a Nobel Prize. In December 1988, Hagley received Pedersen’s papers, which are housed as Dessauer’s are, in the Manuscript and Archives Department).

Dessauer’s interests have included dyes and photochemistry, as well as the manufacturing and marketing of new product development. Holding more than twenty-five patents in the fields of dye chemistry, UV-absorbers, photochromism, and revolutionary imaging systems, Dessaur has helped commercialize scientific discoveries.

Rolf Dessauer's principal responsibilities with the DuPont Company were as follows:

1952-1958 Chemical research

1959-1964 Liaison with potential customers and various DuPont laboratories

1965-1970 Technical Marketing

1971-1978 New Product Development with potential customers

1979-1987 Research, contact with suppliers, users

1988-2001 Research at DX Imaging, contacts with manufacturing sites, Xerox


Files were kept in binders, arranged chronologically; that order has been maintained where possible. Original file folder labeling has also been maintained when possible, as well as internal corporate numbering of documents.

Scope and Content

The collection is representative of Rolf Dessauer’s career as a noted scientist and chemist.

Researchers are given a glimpse into the overlap between staff departments and operating departments within the DuPont company. The records also document the evolution of the duplication of office records. The modern office copier of the 1970s changed the way the company delivered information, and generated voluminous amounts of paper files. With the integration of computers and electronic communications in the office setting during the 1980s, the need to generate paper files diminished.

Dessauer’s papers chronicle the history of several of DuPont’s business ventures, both successes and failures. As with the UPC (Universal Product Codes) and their use in supermarkets, Electronic Imaging is another example of an unrealized venture. UVI and UPC scanning were thought to be ahead of their time. DuPont management decided there was not enough interest in these new technologies.

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Inc. is an ever evolving, innovative corporation. The diversity of its research and products during the second half of the 20th century is documented in these papers. During Dessauer’s tenure many departments at DuPont were dissolved, or absorbed into others. This collection of documents that Dessauer has amassed gives a snapshot into the managerial mindset of one of the largest chemical giants, and helps document the corporate climate of the 1960s through the 1990s.

The collection is arranged into five series: Chronological files, Subject files, Publications files, DX Imaging files, and Personal files. Detailed scope and content notes are provided at the series level.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Hagley Museum and Library holds literary rights to the colleciton.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


Gift of Rolf Dessauer, 2009 and 2012.


  • Dessauer, Rolf. "The Invention of Dylux® Instant Access Imaging Materials and the Development of HABI Chemistry-A Personal History," in Advances in photochemistry. Volume 28, ed. Neckers, Douglas C., Thomas Wolff, and William S. Jenks (Hoboken: John Wiley, 2005)

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Rolf Dessauer papers
Finding aid prepared by Marsha Mills, 2013.
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Revision Statements

  • 2023: Diane E. Bockrath

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA