Home & Garden Columns

Cal Ink: Etched into the History of the 20th Century

By Susan Cerny
Friday November 03, 2006

During the first 75 years of the 20th century, West Berkeley was the location of many manufacturing plants that produced diverse products from vegetable oil to ink, and from huge hydraulic pumps to tanned hides. 

Cal Ink originated in 1891, in Los Angeles, as a subsidiary of Union Oil Company, and was sold to an E.L. Hueter of San Francisco in 1896. Sometime between 1900 and 1903, the company moved its manufacturing plant to West Berkeley, into buildings that had been part of the Raymond Tannery. In 1999 Cal Ink, now Flint Ink of Michigan, was the oldest factory in Berkeley operating at its original location. 

On the blocks bounded by Camelia, Gilman, Fourth, and Fifth streets, there were about twenty buildings dating from 1906 to 1978. The sprawling factory included manufacturing buildings, laboratories, storage tanks, and offices. 

Over the years, Cal Ink made almost every type of ink product, from a white ink for marking bees to perfumed ink used in advertising. The products developed and manufactured at this plant included: moisture-proof and heat-resistant inks, inks that resist scratching and oxidation, inks used for newspapers, magazines, boxes, bags, labels, and linoleum, plastic, steel, aluminum, airplane parts, and fabric. It is one of the largest suppliers of ink to the graphic arts industry. From time to time it produced many of the raw materials for ink, such as pigment colors and varnishes. An international company, it uses materials from all over the world including: drying oils from South America, shellac from India, pigments from Europe, and carbon and mineral oil from the United States. It then exports its various inks around the world. During World War I, Cal Ink developed and produced the first “Litho Red” ink made in the United States. 

After 1919, the company changed ownership several times, merging with or buying other companies, and occasionally creating subsidiaries. Today the company is a division of the Flint Ink Company of Detroit. Although ink was still being made at this location in 1999, portions of the complex have been sold and some buildings demolished. 


This article was originally published Sept. 29, 2001 in the Berkeley Daily Planet. 


California Ink Co. Industrial Site 

1326–1404 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 


The California Ink Co. Industrial Site was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 17 Nov. 17,1986. 



Photograph by Daniella Thompson  

The California Ink Co. Industrial Site, 1326–1404 Fourth St., was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on Nov. 17, 1986.