Otto Röhm, Chemist and entrepreneur

The pharmacist

Co-founder and long-term co-owner and Director of Röhm & Haas whose facilities in Darmstadt, Worms and Weiterstadt are important sites of Evonik Industries.


* 1876, Öhringen/Württemberg

† 1939, Berlin

Otto Röhm, who originally trained as a pharmacy assistant, went on to study pharmacy at the universities of Munich and Tübingen. After qualifying as a pharmacist, he studied chemistry at Tübingen, and successfully completed his doctorate in 1901 with his thesis on the "Polymerization Products of Acrylic Acid." After leaving university, he work at the pharmaceutical company Merck and as a chemist at Stuttgart gas works, where he devoted himself to processing animal hides that he treated with ammonia water. His research led to an enzymatic bating agent that was greatly in demand in the leather industry. To market this pioneering product, he founded the Röhm & Haas Company in Esslingen in 1907 together with businessman Otto Haas. Soon, the company successfully launched its new product OROPON® on the market. By 1909, the young company had reached such a size that it had to move to Darmstadt, where a larger plant was built near the leather factories in the Rhine-Main area.

Otto Röhm was the first chemist to isolate enzymes and put them to technical use. In so doing, he revolutionized both the traditional leather bating process involving dog feces, and from 1914 on, the laundry process too. In 1920, Otto Röhm introduced enzymes to pharmacy and in 1934, to the food industry, where they were initially used to clarify fruit juice.

Röhm also became a pioneer in the field of plastics, where he developed a large number of acrylic and methacrylic compounds. He and his staff achieved their greatest invention in 1933 PLEXIGLAS®, which won the Grand Prix and a gold medal at the Paris World's Fair in 1937. Röhm's aim was to put these chemical products to the widest possible use. Thus, during his lifetime the first polymer pellets, now known as PLEXIGLAS® molding compounds, were developed and used for molded parts, as well as products for dentures and for the paint and textile industries. The chemical foundation he had laid, especially in the field of methacrylate chemistry, enabled Röhm & Haas to establish a comprehensive range of products for a broad spectrum of applications from the 1950s onward.

In 1922, Röhm was made an honorary citizen of Darmstadt's Technical University. He is named as the inventor or co-inventor in more than 70 patents. When he died in 1939, the company employed 1,800 people and achieved sales of 22 million Reichsmark. Streets in the company sites Darmstadt, Weiterstadt and Worms, as well as in his home town Öhringen, bear his name.