The 1950s was an exciting time at Celanese. Read below to learn how we continued to grow by optimizing market opportunities and diversifying to satisfy consumer needs.
By the early 1950s, Celanese, along with Avisco and Du Pont, were the industry leaders in the cellulose fibers market. Less than two percent of “better dresses” were made of silk. Yet new synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester and acrylic had made a dramatic entrance into the market. As acetate demand decreased, prices dropped, leaving Celanese with some serious business decisions to make.
Camille Dreyfus’ insistence on acetate as the company’s main product could have meant catastrophe for Celanese, but under the leadership of Harold Blancke, president of Celanese following the second world war, Celanese diversified its product portfolio by expanding into the production of polyester, nylon, triacetate, chemicals, plastics, paint, petroleum and forest products. Blancke believed that new products should serve human needs – and thereby have a built-in growth potential – a belief that Celanese still adheres to today.
In January of 1950, with the Korean War swiftly approaching and the Russians firmly on the side of North Korea, President Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, ordered the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon said to be 800 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the second world war. With rumors circulating about existing atomic weapons in the USSR, it became apparent that the United States would be forced to develop their own hydrogen bomb in order to preserve world peace.
Despite the turmoil of World War II and the inevitable conflict developing between North and South Korea, a little slice of Americana was being carved out in the Appalachian foothills of Northwest Georgia, just north of the Rome city limits. Celanese had purchased a textile mill from Tubize-Chatillon along with the existing “Mill Village.” The Mill Village consisted of 500 worker houses and 25 homes for management. Beginning in 1950, Celanese allowed employees to purchase homes in the village, which were previously only available for rent. While this came with more responsibility of home ownership, it allowed employees to remodel and add on to the homes to suit their families’ needs.
Today, much of the village is still standing, though the mill ceased operations in 1976. Residents had their own doctor, school, firehouses, swimming pool and drugstore … complete with a soda fountain. The Rome News-Tribune reported that at a reunion of the Celanese village’s former residents, Pastor James Womack fondly remembered a strong sense of community at the Celanese village, noting that it was like one big family. “Wherever I was, whatever I did (if it was something wrong), I got disciplined by whoever was around, and my parents knew about it by the time I got home,” Womack said.
Enhancing its reputation as a company with a heart, Celanese sponsored an anthology television series on the ABC broadcast network filmed in New York City from October 1951 to June 1952. Celanese Theatre was nominated for the Primetime Emmy awards as “Outstanding Drama Series” in 1952 and 1953. It won the Peabody Award in 1951, with the comment: “For the first time, Celanese Theatre fused the realism and vitality of the theatre at its best with inventive camera and production techniques, revealing the limitless potentialities of television to project great drama into the American home.”
Unfortunately, the program became too costly to produce and Celanese executives made the decision to cancel the series. An article in The Berkshire Evening Eagle on August 12, 1952 humorously noted: “The show had a good rating and everybody connected with it was deliriously happy. Now they are just plain delirious because the Celanese people decided the show was too expensive and canceled its contract.” The timing of the cancellation was unfortunate, as color television was introduced in the United States in 1953.
A time of innovation and advancement in many areas, including medical, social, military, scientific and technology, the 1950s was a decade that will stand out in history books for years to come.
In the medical world, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of London, England, jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their determination of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. In 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk, American medical researcher and virologist, began national testing of the vaccine to prevent paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) on one million children, ages six to nine, who became known as the Polio Pioneers.
On the social front, the fight for equal rights for black Americans in the U.S. was in full swing. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the “colored section” of the bus when the “white section” was full. Just two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus boycott lasted 381 days and resulted in new laws that ended segregation on public buses. The bus boycott was considered to be one of the most successful protests against racial segregation in history.
Finally, Russia ushered the world into the Space Age when it launched Sputnik I, the first Earth-orbiting satellite in 1957. The satellite took only 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. Not to be outdone, the U.S. then launched the Explorer I satellite into orbit carrying a small scientific payload that discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth. These events marked the beginning of the space race.
Celanese recognized the opportunity to contribute to the Space Age and later signed a contract with NASA to develop a line of PBI textiles for use in heat- and flame-resistant space suits and vehicles (which we will write about in a future Celanese history blog).
Sadly, the death of Celanese founder, Camille Dreyfus, in 1956 meant the end of an era. Following his passing, the Dreyfus Foundation, created by Camille upon his brother’s death, was renamed The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. The Foundation still exists today, though it is no longer affiliated with Celanese. Awards and scholarships are given to outstanding scholars in order “to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances throughout the world.”
Learn more about Celanese’s 100 year history, visit our interactive digital timeline. As always, we welcome your input, comments and questions.
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