Ulrich Hoffmann, Chemist

The "Father" of central research

Degussa

* 1900, Chemnitz

† 1970, Bad Homburg v.d.H.

Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann played an important role in two of the former chemical companies of Evonik : as CEO of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH and Board member at the former Degussa.

The son of a high school teacher, he began studying Chemistry at the Technical University in Dresden in 1919. In 1924 he earned his doctorate, with a thesis on “Interferometric investigations on the purity of gases” and then started work as an operating technician in the main laboratory of the Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (later BASF AG, 1945) in Ludwigshafen in the Palatinate, which was assimilated by I.G. Farbenindustrie AG in 1925. Three years later, Hoffmann moved to the company’s indigo department where he was involved in developing a process to manufacture 1,3-butadiene, which was later used in the Buna factories in Schkopau and at Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH. As early as 1936 he became deputy factory manager in Schkopau and in November 1938 CEO of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH in Marl for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG. Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH was founded on May 9, 1938 for the production of Buna (synthetic rubber) and as an armament factory as part of the policy of self-sufficiency in economic and war issues pursued under National Socialism.

I.G. Farbenindustrie AG held the majority of shares in the Chemische Werke Hüls AG with 74 percent; the mining company Hibernia AG held 26 percent. Dr. Hoffmann was responsible for technical work processes and Dr. Hans Günther, from Hibernia, was responsible for commercial matters. As the larger of the two partners, I.G. Farbenindustrie AG took care to place Ulrich Hoffmann in charge of those departments which dealt with the patents, knowledge and experience related to the manufacture of Buna. The Hibernia representative was to remain excluded. However, the two managers were more interested in the success of their cooperation and tried to increase their room to maneuver vis-à-vis I.G. Farbenindustrie.

After the end of the war, Hüls was initially occupied by the Americans and subsequently taken over by British forces on June 1, 1945. Ulrich Hoffmann was commissioned by the British military government to revive Wasag Chemie GmbH in Sythen (which is today part of the nearby town of Haltern). The plant manager in Marl was Paul Baumann, former Deputy CEO and Production Manager, who, having worked for several years in the USA, spoke fluent English. In June 1948, the British military administration dissolved the contract with Ulrich Hoffmann completely.

Shortly afterwards, when Degussa sought to fill the Directorship for Research and Technology, Carl Wurster, a member of the Degussa board, nominated Ulrich Hoffmann for the position. As the Chemische Werke Hüls had not been under a prohibition of competition order, Hoffmann was able to take over the Directorship for Technology and Research on the Degussa board on April 1, 1950. The minutes of a discussion between the Chairman and representatives from the Works Council concerning the appointment, dated February 20, 1950, record that “the Chairman reported that his efforts and those of the Board had been successful in finding in Dr. Ulrich Hofmann a highly qualified chemist who, following very careful investigation, meets all our requirements…”.

Ulrich Hoffmann was particularly committed to building up research activity, which had been neglected in favor of rebuilding during the first few post-war years. With his exceptional knowledge of chemistry and his ability, he raised research at Degussa to a standard that, according to Dr. Felix Prentzel, who was later CEO, had “never previously been achieved.” In 1953, Hoffmann invited Dr. Wilhelm Schuler, an excellent pharmaceutical researcher, to join Degussa, appointing him Head of Pharmaceutical Research. Later he was placed in charge of all chemistry research at the company. Together with Schuler, he streamlined both the internal and external departmental research operations. In due course, Hoffmann managed to collect the widely scattered research departments at Degussa into a central and modern research center at the Wolfgang branch, which is now the Wolfgang Industrial Park of Evonik Industries. Over the years, Hoffmann’s area of responsibility broadened to include the further development and expansion of chemical application technology and production, as well as of metal production (including metal manufacture, annealing and curing technology and precious metals).

Thanks to his extensive experience and his earlier work, Ulrich Hoffmann was appointed to the supervisory board at the Chemische Werke Hüls, which had become an AG in 1953. Starting June 1, 1960 he was named a member of the board of Chemie-Verwaltungs AG, which at that time held 50 percent of the Hüls capital stock. Dr. Hoffmann was active on the Degussa board for 14 years and was a member of the supervisory board at Chemische Werke Hüls AG until his death in 1970.