In 1904, the Frankfurt-based testing facility of Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt (Degussa AG since 1980) succeeded in developing a chemical synthesis that led to the worldwide success of the detergent, “Persil,” three years later. Company’s chemist Dr. Otto Liebknecht, brother of the socialist, Karl Liebknecht, who was shot dead in 1919, succeeded in producing the active oxygen sodium perborate that was to herald a new era in textile cleaning as self-acting bleaching agent.
The lack of success of the new product, initially marketed as Oxygenol, was crushing. Within the course of 18 months, only three hundredweights could be pushed off on major laundries; this corresponded to a meager 300 grams per day. An advertising budget of 10,000 Reichsmarks, a princely sum at the time, seemed to vanish into thin air with no effect whatsoever.
Only when the company Henkel took an interest in Degussa’s sodium perborate in 1907 was commercial success secured. The Dusseldorf-based company started off by ordering 50 kilograms per day and mixed the additive with one of its own detergents. The result was a product that is still a household name today: Persil. The brand name historically stood for Degussa’s perborate and Henkel’s silicate.
For the first time, the new detergent rendered conventional grass-bleaching superfluous, which greatly reduced the amount of work for the consumer.
The sales success was so great that production of sodium perborate soon had to be transferred to the larger plant in Rheinfelden.
In 1920, a new electrolytic method was introduced to enable more favorable production. In 1964, active oxygen was manufactured in the Rheinfelden plant in 141 crucibles and capacities have continued to increase ever since.
Evonik continues to produce sodium perborate; however over the last years, sodium percarbonate has become a more important detergent substance.