Take a walk with me through the hundred year history of Celanese. Over the last year or so, I’ve been reading every scrap of information I could find to learn what exactly it takes to build a company that lasts a hundred years. Precious few companies are able to survive, let alone thrive for that length of time. Celanese survived two world wars, the great depression, the stock market crash among many other world events, and yet we came through it all stronger and more resilient.
What I found in my research are some common threads and themes that differentiate Celanese from our competitors. We like that word “differentiate” here at Celanese, but what does it mean? What it means for us, in terms of our history, is that we did (do) things differently from our competitors.
When WWI demanded paint for airplanes and zeppelins, we adapted our acetate lacquer for that purpose. When the paint market plummeted after the war, we pivoted to producing acetate yarn for fabric. Our founders were innovators and risk takers, and they found ways to accomplish their goals when others would have given up.
They also possessed the valuable skill of recognizing a market need and finding a way to fulfill it. As our world evolved – through women’s suffrage, civil and gay rights movements, space exploration and medical and technological advancements, Celanese evolved right along with it – scientifically, technologically and culturally. This unique ability to change and adjust course has enabled Celanese to continue our trajectory of sustained growth and success.
I hope you’ll enjoy our journey through the history of this remarkable company, and I welcome your questions and comments. Cheers to 100 Years!
The First Decade
As the probability of war grew in 1912, Camille and Henry Dreyfus were making plans to begin a company they had been planning for and dreaming of for many years. Their brain child began as a small research project in a shed in the back garden of the Dreyfus family home in Basel, Switzerland. The brothers, both chemists, opened their first factory in Switzerland in 1910, where they produced cellulose acetate lacquers and plastic film, as well as acetate yarn. The film was used to develop a non-flammable motion picture film base – a welcome alternative to highly volatile cellulose nitrate-based film.
After securing financial backing for their new venture, the Dreyfus brothers founded Cellonit Gesellschaft Dreyfus & Co. in 1913. In anticipation of the first world war, they began what we now recognize as the first of many instances of diversification by including an acetate lacquer coat for fabric, commonly referred to as “dope,” to be used to coat and stretch the fabric on military aircraft fuselages. The brothers’ decision to add this acetate lacquer to their portfolio was a timely one, as World War I began shortly thereafter in 1914, with the first German Zeppelin L3 attack over Great Britain in 1915.
The British government invited the Dreyfus brothers to Britain in 1916 to produce their new airplane paint along with the intermediate product, acetic acid. The British soon patented the process developed by Henry Dreyfus, lowering the cost of acetic anhydride production, which lead to their expansion into England and the creation of British Cellulose & Chemical Manufacturing Co. Henry Dreyfus managed the company with a workforce of over 14,000 people.
They soon began commercial production of acetate yarn, which had been suspended during the first world war due to the increased demand for acetate lacquer. Production resumed post-war, boosting the company’s profits and taking advantage of a number of its new inventions, ranging from the technique used to spin thread to the treatment of dyed fibers, thus securing the company’s survival. Acetate yarn soon became known as “artificial silk,” making life easier for homemakers everywhere, as the care and cleaning process was much simpler than that of real silk.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Henry Ford introduced the continuous moving assembly line, which produced a car roughly every 2.5 minutes, and the women’s suffrage movement began with 25,000 women marching on New York City demanding the right to vote.
Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity for progress in America, in 1918 under the guidance of Camille Dreyfus, The American Cellulose & Chemical Manufacturing Company (known as Amcelle) was founded in New York City, New York, USA. Amcelle is the official predecessor of today’s U.S.-based Celanese Corporation. One hundred years later, we are proud to “Celebrate the Past & Imagine the Future.”
Soon after the company’s founding in the U.S., construction commenced on a production facility in Cumberland, Maryland, where they intended to produce acetate lacquer for military aircraft. However, as the first world war ended before the plant could be completed, the factory shifted again to producing cellulose acetate yarn for the textile industry. The first spool of acetate yarn was spun in America on Christmas Day, 1924, at the Cumberland plant.
Further extending its reach, the company founded Celanese Canada in 1926, where artificial silk was produced at a factory in Drummondville, Quebec.
The company had introduced the word “Celanese,” a combination of “cellulose” and “ease” in 1925, remarking on the ease of cleaning and care of their acetate yarn, or artificial silk, fabrics. They officially took this name in 1927, becoming Celanese Corporation of America.
As the 1920s drew to a close, Celanese Corporation of America once again adapted to market demand, as it began production of plastics and chemicals – as well as fibers – and was well on its way to becoming one of the largest chemicals manufacturers in the country.
To learn more about the first decade of Celanese, follow our social media channels using hashtag #Celanese100 to see additional historical images and company facts and check out our 100 Year Timeline.