History of Röhm GmbH

The beginning with enzymes

In order to improve the unhygienic working conditions in leather tanneries and to solve the extreme odor problem, the pharmacist and chemist Dr. Otto Röhm tried to replace the dog excrement used for centuries for leather pickling. At the beginning of the 20th century, he successfully experimented with enzymes of the pancreas of slaughter animals. In order to implement this idea on a larger scale, he founded the company Röhm & Haas in Esslingen am Neckar in 1907 together with the businessman Otto Haas. After a short time, various leather factories were won over for the new product OROPON®.

OROPON® barrels, 1910

Rapid success

The rapid success quickly pushed the young company to the limits of its capacity. In 1909, the two owners decided to move to an expandable site in Darmstadt. At the same time, the new company headquarters also ensured short journeys to the large leather factories in the Rhine-Main area.

Due to the increasing demand, production was steadily expanded and systematic sales were established in Germany. At the same time, the company set up representative offices in Lyon, France, and, above all, in the USA, in Philadelphia. Otto Haas took over the management there and never returned to Germany.

With the success of OROPON®, Dr. Otto Röhm was the first to pave the way for the industrial utilization of enzymes. His further research in this area opened up new fields of application. In 1914, for example, Röhm & Haas introduced the enzyme-based soaking agent BURNUS®, which facilitated laundry washing.

Bottling of BURNUS®, 1923

This was followed in 1920 by wound care products and a little later by products for body care. Enzyme-containing products have also ensured sustainable success in the textile and especially in the silk industry as well as in the production of hide  glue. From 1934, enzymes were also used for the food industry, initially to clarify apple juices, and after the Second World War also in the production of baked goods. It was not until the 1990s that the company disposed of all activities in the field of enzymes.

The second pillar

With the first products of acrylate and methacrylate chemistry in the years around 1930, the character of Röhm & Haas slowly began to change. This development had already begun in 1901 with Otto Röhm's dissertation on the "Polymerization Products of Acrylic Acid", and the actual research work in the field of acrylic began in 1911. In 1927, the first tangible results were achieved and one year later the production of a transparent laminated safety glass with an internal acrylate layer began as a glazing material for the automotive industry.

Further intensive research finally led to the invention of PLEXIGLAS® in 1933. On this basis, Röhm & Haas created a wide range of products for various applications from the 1930s onwards. From 1935 onwards, Dr. Otto Röhm and his chemists were involved in the production and processing of pearl-shaped granules, which were used in injection moulding for household items, writing and drawing instruments or car taillights. In addition, other polymers were created, e.g. in the form of aqueous dispersions for the textile and coatings industries. In 1937, Röhm & Haas received the Grand Prix and a gold medal for its extraordinary invention at the World Exhibition in Paris.

Cutley made of PLEXIGLAS®, 1937

Röhm & Haas under national Socialism

As early as 1936, the dictatorial claim of the Nazi regime and its business associations to keep an eye on products important to the war effort and bring them under control became palpable. Röhm & Haas, on the other hand, considered cooperation to be indispensable and advertised its products. Success came very soon and the company was included in the four-year plan. This led to a significant strengthening of its own position vis-à-vis competing large-scale industry and to profitable arms orders.

Pulpit of a Heinkel He 111, 1939

The Nazi regime's interest in PLEXIGLAS® changed the direction of the company and enzyme production was neglected in view of the booming plastic production for the war economy. Röhm & Haas became an arms company that primarily supplied the Reich with PLEXIGLAS® for the cockpits of fighter planes and bombers. In order to meet the high demand, the production capacities at the main plant in Darmstadt were expanded and the plants in Mittenwalde (south of Berlin) and Worms am Rhein were built. The enormous increase in production was made possible by the use of numerous forced laborers and prisoners of war. In September 1944, they accounted for a total of 26 percent of the workforce.

New Products

With the production permit, which Röhm & Haas received from the American military authorities on October 17, 1945, the company was able to resume the production of its enzyme and plastic products – initially to a limited extent due to the destruction caused by the war. At the beginning of the 1950s, the product range was expanded to include polymers for coating tablets. Thanks to these pharmaceutical polymers, which have been marketed under the brand name EUDRAGIT® since 1954, the delivery of active ingredients can be controlled locally or temporally. In addition, systems have also been developed for patches that control drug delivery through the skin. The oil additives VISCOPLEX®, developed in 1953, contribute to the improvement of the viscosity index in lubricants, gear and hydraulic oils and ensure consistently good lubricating properties of the oils at different temperatures. Launched in 1970, the rigid foam ROHACELL® developed into a high-tech product and is now a sought-after core material in composite production for sports equipment, aircraft, ships, wind turbines, high-speed trains and satellite transport rockets.

ROHACELL® brochure, 1970

the company's development

Initially a general partnership, Röhm & Haas was a public limited company from 1920 to 1938 and was then run as a limited liability company until 1970. After the Haas family left the group of shareholders in 1971, the company was renamed Röhm GmbH. Initially, BASF AG held a minority stake, which was sold to Hüls AG, Marl, after ten years. At the end of 1989, Hüls also took over all other shares. Following the merger of Hüls AG with Degussa AG in 1999, Degussa's methacrylate activities were merged with Röhm. After several mergers, Röhm was absorbed into Evonik Industries AG.

Today, around 1,300 people are employed in the Nutrition & Care (Pharma Polymers), Specialty Additives (oil additives), Smart Materials (ROHACELL®) and Technology & Infrastructure divisions at the Evonik site in Darmstadt, Germany —together with around 130 trainees and students.

The area of methacrylate activities was spun off and has been operating as an independent company since August 1, 2019, for which the traditional name Röhm GmbH was chosen.