Friday, December 30, 2016

Maximilian Toch | Camouflage Artist-Scientist

American chemist and camoufleur Maximilian Toch (1907)
Above Portrait of American chemist and paint expert Maximilian Toch, as President of the Chemists' Club (1907), photographer unknown. Original photo from the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Wikipedia), with digital color added. 


Born in New York, American chemist and paint expert Maximilian Toch (1864-1946) earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry and law at New York University (1886), then went on to graduate work at Columbia University. He taught chemical engineering at Cooper Union, and at the University of Beijing. He also lectured on organic chemistry at Columbia (1905-06), and the City College of New York (1909), and later taught industrial chemistry at Cooper Union (1919-1924), and painting chemistry at the National Academy of Design (1924-36).

New York Times (“Dr. Toch” 1946:23): The cement-filler treatment used in the construction of the Panama Canal was developed by him.

Cervaux (2013): [Toch's] primary focus was the interaction between paint materials and the steel and concrete that had become mainstays of urban architecture. He sought paints specially adapted to the job of protecting and beautifying the modern city…[As early as 1908] Toch Brothers products were in use in structures from the New York Public Library to the San Francisco branch of the US Mint. As Toch delivered lectures and published articles in chemistry journals, the scientific reputation of Toch Brothers and its chief chemist grew in tandem.

New York Times (ibid.): He is credited with developing the original battleship gray formula used by the United States Navy, and during the first World War was called America’s first camoufleur. He had charge of camouflage of the East Coast defenses at that time also, and developed the Toch system of camouflage.

Toch’s opinions regarding chemical evidence in the authentication of art became controversial in 1931, when he claimed that all but one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rembrandt paintings (about thirty at the time) were not genuine, and that of four hundred paintings attributed to Rembrandt in collections worldwide, only forty-eight could be scientifically verified. He defended his claims in a book Paint, Paintings and Restoration and other books on authentication methods in art. He was the uncle of art materials expert Ralph Mayer.

Toch (1919): It was my good fortune the first week of the war [WWI] to be called down to the Navy Department to the Bureau of Yards and Docks, which department really took up the first camouflage of the United States, and I had the mission thrust upon me of going along the coast of the United States and designing and executing the camouflage of the yards and docks and a number of fortifications… When I was called to Washington during the first week of the war, it was because in 1915 I had camouflaged two forts at Panama. In those days the word ‘camouflage’ was totally unknown. The words used were ‘military concealment,’ and on the question of the visibility of color [blending] and juxtaposition of  color [dazzle], these two fortresses which contained disappearing guns were given to me to distort and to lower their visibility…

The first workers on ship camouflage were Messrs. [William Andrew] Mackay, Gerome Brush, Louis Herzog, Lt. [Everett L.] Warner and myself, and of course in those days we didn’t have the guidance of the brilliant scientific research of Messrs. [Harold] Van Buskirk, Warner and [Loyd] Jones.

Toch (“Camouflage of Ships” 1919:154): The Shipping Board, in conjunction with the navy, found it advisable to adopt methods for lowering the visibility of ships, and the important information this subject which the public ought to know, is that if anybody thinks a ship can be lowered in visibility to a point where it becomes totally invisible, he is thoroughly mistaken. No ship, however thoroughly it may be camouflaged, can become invisible against the rising or setting sun. I have shown photographs of white flying birds and camouflaged ships against the light which show their total opacity. The navy adopted four systems, viz., the Brush, Herzog, Mackay and Toch systems, and, later on, the Toch [sic, should be Warner] system. But Admiral Sims, in 1918, decided that the Wilkinson system, which bore great similarity to the Toch system, excepting that Wilkinson used blue where I used green, be adopted by the English and the Americans.

Toch ship camouflage plan (c1917)


The total effect of ship camouflage is one of distortion and not of the lowering of visibility, and a ship properly camouflaged becomes so distorted that it is impossible to tell its correct direction within twenty-five degrees. This I determined for myself by having spent a day at sea in one of our submarines, which the camouflaged ship Parthenia accompanied us, and in five range-finding operations showed up from 10 to 18 percent, and in no case, even at 600 yards, which is point blank fire, could the Parthenia have been hit by the U-boat from which I made my observations.

Toch (1931:308): In the beginning of the War [World War I] we all thought it was perfectly possible to lower visibility until you could not see the object. We learned that this is impossible, so I worked on the coloration concealment of Abbott Thayer, because I was one of the fortunate possessors of his book, which had long been out of print and which he personally had given me. I am frank to say that without his book, my slight knowledge of physics, chemistry, and optics would not have stood me in good stead.

Toch (Ibid.:308): Early in May, I was hurriedly called down to the Shipping Board, and they read me a report from the captain of the [USS] Luckenbach, in which he stated that the Toch system of camouflage was no good and did not lower visibility; that some other method ought to be tried, and he concluded by saying that one thing he did notice was that he could not tell which way the camouflaged ships were going.

USS Katrina Luckenbach (hypothetical digital colors)
I immediately saw that here we had at last the solution to our problem: that to lower visibility to the point of extinction was utterly impossible in physics and in optics, and I explained to the Shipping Board that every effort must be made to forget this but to try and distort direction.

Toch (Ibid.:309): [Having been painted in disruptive camouflage]…a ship not only became foreshortened but its direction was so distorted that when I went out to sea in a submarine and fired some dummy shots at one of my own camouflaged ships, I missed the boat at as short a distance as 600 meters.

Early in January [1918], the Eastman Kodak Laboratories were enlisted in the studying of the lowering of visibility. I went to Rochester and consulted with their physicists; but I stood my ground that the lowering of visibility was not what we were after but distortion of direction, and in the end most of the ships were camouflaged by this method.

In Warner ("Summary of Points"), it is stated that the USS Kajeruna was camouflaged using the Toch System, c1917, and in January 1918, two other ships, the USS Huron and the USS Aeolus were also painted using the same system (Section H).

Toch on horseback [detail] (1940). Wikipedia.

Behrens, R. (2009), CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books.
__________ (2012), SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books.
Cerveaux, A. and E. Hepler-Smith (2013) “Quest for Permanence” in Distillations. Chemical Heritage Foundation. Online at <>.
“Dr. Toch, Chemist and Art Expert, 81” (1946) in New York Times (May 31), p. 23.
Hendrick, E. (1929), “American Contemporaries: Maximilian Toch” in Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Vol 21 No 7 (July), p. 704. Online at <>.
Toch, M. (1918) “The Fine Art of Military Camouflage” in Munsey’s Magazine Vol 64 No 1 (June), pp. 5-8.
_______ (1919a) “Camouflage of Ships” in Pacific Marine Review, 154.
_______ (1919b) “Discussion” in Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society Vol 14 (July 21), pp. 230-232.
_______ (1931) “Adventures in Camouflage” in The Military Engineer Vol 23 (July-August), pp. 307-309.
Warner, E. (n.d.) “Summary of Points to be Made in a General Lecture on Marine Camouflage.” Unpublished typescript.