First industrial use of enzymes
Over the course of approximately one hundred years of company history, Röhm GmbH and the Darmstadt site of Evonik Industries have undergone enormous changes, transforming themselves from a manufacturer of innovative leather mordants to a market leader in the methacrylate chemicals industry with brands such as PLEXIGLAS®, EUDRAGIT®, VISCOPLEX®, and ROHACELL®. It all started when the pharmacist and chemist Dr. Otto Röhm tried to improve the unhygienic working conditions in tanneries. He wanted to solve the extreme odor problem caused by the centuries-old tradition of using dog feaces as a leather mordant. In the early 20th century, Röhm successfully experimented with enzymes harvested from the pancreas of slaughtered animals. To implement this idea on a larger scale, he founded the company Röhm & Haas in Esslingen (Neckar) in 1907 together with the businessman Otto Haas. A variety of leather factories soon started buying the new product OROPON®.
Darmstadt site, 1909
This rapid success quickly brought the newly established company to the limits of its capacity. To accommodate their growing need for space, the two entrepreneurs moved the facility to Darmstadt in 1909. The new location also was conveniently close to major leather factories in the Rhine-Main region, especially those in Offenbach.
Given the steadily rising demand for its products, the company consistently expanded its production and established a systematic distribution system in Germany. At the same time, branch offices opened in Lyon and Philadelphia. Otto Haas became the business manager of this successful US-branch.
With OROPON® successfully established in the market, Otto Röhm became a pioneer of industrial enzyme applications. His further research in this area opened up new way to use enzymes. Thus, Röhm & Haas introduced the soaking agent BURNUS®, which contained enzymes and facilitated laundering, followed in 1920 by enzyme-based wound care products and other body care products. Products containing enzymes became a long-term success in the textile industry, particularly in silk production, as well as in the manufacture of hide glue. From 1934, enzymes also began to be used in the food industry, initially for clarifying apple juice, but also–after World War II–in baked goods. In the 1990s, Röhm GmbH sold all business activities that had developed from the leather and enzyme business and within Röhm Pharma GmbH, a venture established later on. The only exception to this divestment campaign was EUDRAGIT®.
The second cornerstone
The introduction of products based on acrylate and methacrylate chemicals slowly changed the character of Röhm & Haas in the 1930s, although these products were known as early as 1901 in the doctoral thesis of Otto Röhm on the “polymerization products of acrylic acid.” It took until 1911 to start the actual research work in the area of acrylics. The tangible results were noticed in 1927, and one year later, the company began manufacturing a clear, transparent bonded safety glass with an interior acrylate layer to serve as window material for the automotive industry. Further intensive research work ultimately led to the ground-breaking invention of PLEXIGLAS® in 1933. This was an enormous breakthrough for the former Röhm & Haas AG, which allowed the company to create an extensive product portfolio for numerous applications from the 1930s to today.
Cast sheets made of PLEXIGLAS® offered transparency, brilliance, unparalleled weather-resistance, formability, and break-resistance–properties that continue to be highly valued to this day. Röhm & Haas won a gold medal at the 1937 World Expo in Paris for this extraordinary invention. This event led to a boost in domestic and international interest in PLEXIGLAS®. However, the innovative material was primarily used in military equipment until 1945, for example, for airplane cockpits.
The triumph of PLEXIGLAS
Shell brand logo, made of PLEXIGLAS®
In 1935, Dr. Otto Röhm and his team of chemists began experimenting with the production and processing of bead granulates, which are now known as PLEXIGLAS® molding compounds. These products are now widely used for injection-molding household items, writing and drawing equipment, ceiling lights, automotive rear lights, traffic systems, as well as lenses and optical data media. In 1951, the company started to extrude PLEXIGLAS® from molded compounds to manufacture sheets and frames, followed by rods a while later. Over the past decades, a wide variety of uses for cast and extruded PLEXIGLAS® has been developed. Today, the material is used to manufacture building glass, illuminated signs, noise barriers, aquarium glazing, equipment safety shields, furniture, and many other design-based and technical products. The company also developed a number of powdered products in the 1930s, which found acceptance in the coatings industry and still are a major focus of production to this day. Furthermore, the company produced polymers, for example, in the form of aqueous dispersions, for the textile and coatings industries, which are now manufactured by Polymerlatex GmbH & Co. KG at Marl Chemical Park.
Another work area was initiated in 1953, when the company began developing coatings for tablets. Thanks to these pharmaceutical polymers, medications can be released locally, for example, in the intestines, or time-released. This also included EUDRAGIT® patch systems that control the release of drugs through the skin.
VISCOPLEX® oil additives, developed in 1953 improve the viscosity index of lubricants, gear oils, and hydraulic oils and ensure consistently good lubrication properties of oils in a wide range of temperatures. This business is now consolidated within the company RohMax GmbH, a subsidiary of Röhm GmbH & Co. KG.
ROHACELL® rigid foam has turned into a high-tech product. This product, which was introduced in 1970 and is also based on methacrylate, is a much sought-after core material for creating composite materials for sports equipment, planes, ships, high-speed trains, and satellite transport rockets.
Röhm & Haas was an incorporated company from 1920 to 1938, and was then managed as a GmbH until 1970. The company had acquired a property lot in a location convenient for traffic in Worms in 1942. Because of bombing damage and the Allied occupation, it took until 1955 to set up and expand a raw materials plant at the site. Another production facility opened in 1969 in Weiterstadt near Darmstadt. After the departure of the Haas family from the group of shareholders, the company was renamed to Röhm GmbH in 1971. BASF initially maintained a minority share, which it sold to Hüls AG after ten years. In late 1989, Hüls acquired all remaining shares. After the merger of Hüls AG with Degussa AG, the methacrylate activities of Degussa, which had been combined within Agomer GmbH to that point, were merged with Röhm GmbH. In early 2001, these operative activities were divided into the Methacrylates, Specialty Acrylics, and High Performance Polymers Business Units. Today the activities at the sites of the former Röhm GmbH are important components of the portfolio of Evonik Industries.