Continue with us on our journey of 100 Years of Celanese, as we explore our third decade and discover the 1940s.
As the pressure of the Great Depression finally subsided under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” businessmen and bankers remained opposed to FDR’s decision to take the nation off the gold standard and to allow deficits in the budget. He responded with new programs for reform, including Social Security, taxes on the wealthy, new bank regulations and work relief programs for the unemployed.
After being elected to his second of four terms – the number of presidential terms was later limited to two in 1951 – Roosevelt went to great lengths to avoid involvement in the second world war. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, however, he promptly directed the nation’s resources and military forces to join the global war.
Celanese’s success of the 1930s was met with the fortuity of high textile demand of World War II, though it was seen by some as an artificial stimulus because government contracts were responsible for the high demand. Following the war though, the demand for soft goods, repressed during the war, was tremendous. Then scare buying associated with the coming Korean War presented another artificial stimulus.
Artificial stimulus or not, the company forged ahead in 1940 and began research into oxidation of butane and propane to prepare acetic acid.
Celanese established a production plant in Bishop, Texas, for the production of more than 20 petrochemical derivatives through vapor-phase oxidation of local liquefied gas, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, methanol and acetone. In addition, the use of acetate tow in cigarette filters opened up a new business area for Celanese America.
While Bishop, Texas seemed to some an unusual location, Celanese found an abundance of propane on the King Ranch, a ranch well-known to Texans near Kingsville, Texas.
Meanwhile, in 1944, Celanese co-founder, Henry Dreyfus, died, leaving his brother, Camille Dreyfus, not only managing director of Celanese America, but also of British Celanese. Camille created the Henry Dreyfus Foundation in memory of his brother “to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances around the world.”
In addition, Celanese Mexicana SA, a publicly traded company, was formed in 1944 by Celanese and a Mexican group headed by Banco Nacional de Mexico SA and began producing acetate fiber at its plant near Ocotlán a few years later in the state of Jalisco.
Though Camille Dreyfus was opposed to the new synthetic fibers that had become so popular, such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, Harold Blancke, president of Celanese, realized the company’s over-reliance on acetate and led a diversification program resulting in Celanese’s sales rising from $264 million to over $1 billion in 1945.
Encouraged by the success of the Bishop Plant, Celanese established a chemical division in 1946 and began to build a research and development laboratory in Clarkwood, Texas. In the meantime, the Bishop plant produced all the acetic acid the fibers company could use, and along with it came formaldehyde. Formaldehyde was produced in such large quantities that the company could not sell it all, leading it to develop suitable derivatives, including paraformaldehyde, trioxane, Formcels®, pentaerythritol and trimethylolpropane, all of which were utilized during the war effort.
With the end of World War II, VE Day was celebrated on May 8, 1945 in Europe. Sadly, President Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, missing the celebration by less than a month.
Following the inauguration of President Harry S. Truman, Korea was divided into communist North Korea and anti-communist South Korea at the 38th parallel, setting the stage for the Korean War. In a speech referred to as the Truman Doctrine, President Truman vowed that the U.S. would help any country threatened by communism. Truman would shortly be forced to follow through on this promise, as North Korea invaded South Korea.
To learn more about Celanese’s 100 Year history, visit our interactive digital timeline and follow us on social media. As always, we welcome your feedback, comments and questions. Thank you for reading.
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