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History & Achievements

Lac has been cultivated for three centuries. For most of that time, the lac bug secretions were valued for the purple-red dye derived from being soaked in water. This dye was used to color silk, leather, and cosmetics and was cultivated primarily for this purpose until the 1870s. Then aniline or chemical dyes began to supplant these and other natural dyes. As early as the sixteenth century, references were made to the usefulness of the lac bug secretions as a decorative lacquer for furniture and fine musical instruments. Natives of the Far East had laboriously cultivated and processed the shellac by hand, scraping the branches encrusted with the lac bug secretions, forcing the secretions into muslin, and holding long muslin bags of the secretions over the fire to liquefy and purify it. They pulled it by hand into huge sheets and then broke the sheets into flakes for re-moisturizing later. Hand processes were partially replaced by the mid-nineteenth century. Just as the lacderived dye was about to fade in popularity, industrial plants began processing the lac secretions for use as a wood sealer and finish. In 1849, William Zinsser founded Wm. Zinsser & Company in New York. Zinsser's shellacs were soluble in ethyl alcohol and were the first quick-drying, tough, colorless