The 1980s was a time of political conservatism, advanced technologies and a pop culture that featured MTV and a new generation of blockbuster movies in the U.S. The eighties brought unprecedented advancement of technology, including the VCR, cable television, electronic banking, cell phone, fax machine, laser surgery and the first version of Microsoft Windows operating system for computers.
Encouraged by 20 years of growth, Hoechst became determined to secure a larger share of the U.S. pharmaceuticals market. The company presented Harvard’s teaching hospital, Massachusetts General, with a history-making $70 million grant to fund cooperative genetic research.
In 1980, Hoechst built a $100 million plant in Freeport, Texas – the largest single investment the company had made. With the addition of the Freeport plant, Hoechst became even larger than Du Pont.
Celanese developed new product lines, including methanol, polybenzimadole (PBI) and high-conductivity graphite fibers. The company also initiated a major research program into methanol-fueled cars in the early 1980s, proclaiming methanol “the fuel of the future.”
In addition, Celanese announced plans to market the high-temperature and chemical-resistant organic fiber, PBI, which was developed for the U.S. space program, used primarily for astronaut’s gear requiring a temperature-resistant fiber.
The early 1980s marked the launch of the Space Shuttle from Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and the introduction of the IBM-PC personal computer, as well as the unanimous approval of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Celanese was busy constructing a new facility at the Celriver site in Rock Hill, South Carolina, to produce carbon fibers marketed as Celion. The company sold the carbon fibers plant in 1985 to BASF, a German chemical conglomerate.
Celanese, SABIC and Duke Energy entered into the Ibn Sina joint venture in Jubail Industrial City, Saudi Arabia in order to produce methanol. At the time, the subsidiaries of Celanese and Duke Energy each held a 25 percent interest in the venture, with the remaining 50 percent held by SABIC. The most recent development of this decades-old Ibn Sina joint venture can be found here (https://celanese.com/news-media/2018/January/celanese-announces-successful-startup-of-polyacetal-facility-of-ibn-sina-joint-venture.aspx).
Celanese’s earnings dipped in 1982, due in part to the Chinese government’s severe restriction on polyester imports. In addition, the oil glut affected the company’s sales of guar gum, a thickener used to suspend sand during the hydraulic fracking of oil and gas wells, and Mexico’s economy weakened, devaluing the peso. The company recovered, however, and by 1983, stock was trading at near-record highs.
In 1982, a key discovery was made in Corpus Christi, leading to the development of a commercial low-water methanol carbonylation process, and Celanese began construction on the world’s largest methanol plant in Edmonton, Canada, to meet an increasing demand for methanol worldwide.
In the U.S., the first successful implantation of an artificial heart, the Jarvik 7, was performed on patient, Barney Clark, who suffered from congestive heart failure. The procedure caught the attention of media around the world, as Mr. Clark had agreed to the transplant despite the fact that his chances of survival were virtually zero. He lived for 112 days after the heart implantation.
In 1983, Celanese built a $20 million plant in Rockhill, South Carolina, to produce polybenzimadole (PBI). PBI was invented by a former E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. chemist with research backing from the U.S. Air Force. Unlike most thermal-protective fabrics, PBI did not melt, produce a stiff char or dissipate into smoke, even when directly exposed to flame.
In May of the same year, Celanese began the commercial production of about a million pounds of polybenzimidazole (PBI) annually. Formerly used for space-age fabrics only, the potential for profits stimulated the development of these fibers outside the space program. Initially, PBI appeared in industrial uses and in protective clothing as a replacement for asbestos, but the lightweight material was later used in everything from airplane upholstery to potholders.
Celanese again diversified, as a unique low-cost acylation process was discovered, leading to the company’s entry into the bulk analgesics market with the production of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
In a dramatic power shift, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union in 1985, leading to the end of the Cold War and the eventual fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
The U.S. saw American engineer, physicist and astronaut, Sally Ride, become the first American woman and the youngest astronaut to travel into space on the Orbiter Challenger at only 32 years old, and the whole nation mourned as the Space Shuttle Challenger, carrying seven astronauts, including 37-year old high school social studies teacher, Christa McAuliffe, exploded only 73 seconds after lift-off.
Celanese created the Advanced Technology Group (ATG) in 1985 to serve as the primary corporate vehicle to help meet ever-increasing technological challenges.
In 1987, Hoechst AG acquired Celanese Corporation for $2.85 billion. After the approval of the friendly takeover by U.S. regulators on February 20, Celanese and American Hoechst Corporation joined forces to form Hoechst Celanese Corporation in the U.S., and Celanese strengthened Hoechst’s fiber, organic chemical and specialty chemical businesses.
Business analysts wondered over the prudence of such a merger when Hoechst had just spent 10 years phasing out commodity fibers. The company proved its detractors wrong with annual sales of $4.61 billion in its inaugural year and $5.67 billion and $6.01 billion, respectively, the following two years.
A dark moment in Celanese history occurred on Saturday, November 14, 1987, when a catastrophic vapor cloud exploded at the Celanese Chemicals facility in Pampa, Texas, resulting from the release and subsequent ignition of vaporized butane from a ruptured reactor feed line. The Pampa event was recognized across Celanese as a process safety wake-up call and led to the development and implementation of comprehensive company-wide process safety management programs – what we now know as our industry-recognized, award-winning KeepSAFE program.
As the decade came to a close, stock markets around the world suffered one of the worst days ever, in what became known as Black Monday, on October 19, 1987. After a long-running rally, the crash began in Asia, picked up steam in London and ultimately ended with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down a whopping 22.6% for the day in New York. This was, and still remains, the worst day in the Dow’s history, in percentage terms.
Learn more about Celanese’s 100 Year history by following us on social media and be sure to check out our interactive digital timeline.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.