Following the diversification of the 1950s, Celanese spent most of the ‘60s building new manufacturing facilities and entering into joint ventures to increase our market share and competitive edge. Read on to discover more about the fifth decade.
As one of the leading producers of synthetic fibers, Celanese commissioned Edward Durell Stone, a 20th century American architect, in 1959 to build the “Celanese House,” a model home in New Canaan, Connecticut to showcase the company’s new materials and styles. Celanese executives would only consider Stone or Frank Lloyd Wright for the commission. Stone was an early proponent of modern architecture whose notable works included Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, New York. The Celanese House is known for its distinctive latticework and twelve pyramidal skylights, and it gained national press coverage when it was completed. Following the promotional campaign, the house was sold as a private residence.
With the development of new synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, Celanese was forced to expand into a broad range of other products during the 1950s and ‘60s. The company began producing additional products, including polyester, nylon, triacetate, chemicals and paints, and it was during this diversification that Celanese entered into a joint agreement with Hoechst AG in 1962, linking together for the first time the Hoechst and Celanese names. In 1961 Celanese and Hoechst AG set up the Ticona Polymerwerke joint venture in Kelsterbach, Germany, leading to the production of Hostaform® acetal copolymer (POM), a high-performance plastic for technical applications starting in 1963.
Meanwhile, war escalated in Vietnam, and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, sworn in only a year before when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, ordered sustained air strikes against North Vietnam with the code name “Rolling Thunder” in 1964. And in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, leader of a movement to end Apartheid, the system of white supremacy and racial segregation, was sentenced to life imprisonment for committing sabotage against the Apartheid government. He served 27 years before being released in an effort to dismantle Apartheid and establish a multiracial government.
In 1964, Celanese Corporation and Daicel Ltd. formed Polyplastics Co., Ltd., a joint venture in Japan, to produce and market POM under Celanese licensing in Japan and the Far East. POM, also known as acetal or polyacetal, is a highly crystalline, high-performance engineering polymer that displays a broad range of thermal and physical/technical properties. It is used in the manufacture of components for transportation, industrial products, appliances, IT and consumer products.
In addition, the Bay City, Texas plant commenced production of vinyl acetate in 1964, and in 1965 Celanese opened a manufacturing facility in Lanaken, Belgium to produce acetate tow, a raw material used for cigarette filters as well as ink reservoirs for pens, fiber tips for markers, medical testing devices, and oil and fuel filters.
Shortly thereafter, Celanese built the largest methanol plant in the U.S. in Clear Lake, Texas in 1967. The plant was completed in only 19 months and was fully operational in 21 months. Methanol is used to produce chemicals such as acetic acid and formaldehyde, which in turn are used in adhesives, plastics, paints and coatings.
With the tragic pre-launch fire that killed the Apollo 1 space crew, NASA contracted with Celanese in 1967 to manufacture PBI for astronaut’s clothing and continued to do so in the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs. PBI is a derivatized polybenzimidazole fiber with a unique balance of properties that permit it to meet critical cost and performance criteria in demanding environments. Among its other properties, PBI has excellent thermal and chemical resistance that significantly reduce flame shrinkage, making it a suitable alternative to asbestos in high temperature and thermal protection clothing.
In the U.S., Thurgood Marshall, judiciary champion for African Americans, was sworn in as the first black Supreme Court Justice in 1967. He is well-known for his victory in the Brown v. Board of Education case, ending racial segregation in public schools. Following his groundbreaking appointment, however, the country lost one of its finest leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, as Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.
In another move toward civil rights, the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBT community took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. These riots are considered among the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Toward the end of the 1960s, many of Celanese’s foreign ventures initiated by President Harold Blancke had faltered, and a change in fashions popularized double-knits over single-knits, eliminating a fifth of the company’s acetate market. By 1969, CEO John W. Brooks, Blancke’s successor, took up the task of divesting failing endeavors and helped restructure the company and gain stability in the market.
As 1969 came to a close, U.S. astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr. and Michael Collins took man’s first steps on the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Neil Armstrong.
Thank you for reading about the fifth decade of Celanese’s history. Be sure to check out our interactive digital timeline. As always, we welcome your input, comments and questions.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.