The Ludwigshafen and Oppau sites lie in ruins in 1945, flattened by 65 air raids and more than 40,000 bombs. One-third of the plants is completely destroyed, and the rest is badly damaged. They have lost 45 percent of total production capacity. But after buildings are rebuilt one by one, production restarts.
The first post-war works council elections take place in 1947. The close cooperation between employee representatives and management, especially during the years of reconstruction, leads to the adoption of a series of social policies that are laid down in the first works agreement in 1955.
Carl Wurster (1900 – 1974, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors between 1952 and 1965) describes the reestablishment of BASF in 1953 as follows: “The years of reconstruction between March 1945 and the currency reform of June 21, 1948 have surely been the most difficult years in BASF’s history. What we have achieved would have been unthinkable without the dedication of the entire workforce, who carried out their challenging duties loyally under difficult conditions and with far too little food.”
At the former sites in Ludwigshafen and Oppau, which now form the sections South and North of the Ludwigshafen site, BASF’s workforce rises to 21,951 by 1948.
The severe explosion of a rail tanker in 1948 in the southern part of the site claims more than 200 lives and destroys many newly completed buildings.
A new area of application is launched in 1949: The herbicide U46 is marketed after three years of tests at BASF’s Agricultural Research Station. U46 is a selective herbicide mainly used in cereal crops.
1951 sees the discovery of a plastic destined to conquer the world’s markets: Styropor. The rigid white foam consists of 98 percent air and captures air’s key attribute: its excellent insulating properties. Civil engineers and packaging designers alike are enthusiastic. The foamed plastic material is just as popular for insulating roofs, walls and ceilings as it is for packaging fragile china or frozen foods. Further developments of Styropor, that is also used as insulating material, complement BASF’s product range as fine-pored, green Styrodur and graphite grey Neopor. In 1964 Styrodur acquires product maturity. Neopor is presented by BASF in 1998.
After protracted demerger negotiations, Badische Anilin- & Sodafabrik Aktiengesellschaft is founded as one of three successor companies of IG Farben on January 30, 1952. Although the company’s headquarters have not been on the Baden side of the Rhine River in Mannheim since 1919, the traditional name is adopted again and is to remain for a long time to come. It is not until 1973 that the Annual Meeting adopts a resolution to update the company’s name to BASF Aktiengesellschaft.
A new company philosophy is also needed. Within the IG Farben conglomerate, Ludwigshafen was for a long time mainly a supplier of raw materials and a manufacturer of high-pressure equipment. The non-existent administration needs to be established, and business areas restructured, expanded and redeveloped. And, crucially, export markets need to be developed.
From the Annual Report 1952: “The reconstruction of the Ludwigshafen site continued to make good progress in 1952 and is approaching completion in the most important areas. Reconstruction has been carried out according to a long-term plan that also enabled fundamental modernization, which will be reflected in both higher production volumes and lower production costs in the next few years.”
In 1953, in collaboration with Deutsche Shell, BASF founds the first German petrochemical production plant, Rheinische Olefinwerke GmbH (ROW), in Wesseling on the Rhine River between Bonn and Cologne. The company mainly produces the plastic polyethylene under the BASF trademark Lupolen. Oil displaces coal as a raw material for chemical syntheses. Hydrocarbons produced from oil have demonstrated their benefits. From now on, BASF’s chemists refine oil, oil derivatives and natural gas. In Germany too, a new era in chemistry begins: the era of petrochemicals.
From the Annual Report 1954: “We must be prepared to carry out certain manufacturing projects abroad in the near future in order to keep pace with developments. We assume that such measures will also benefit our international business over the long term.”
In 1955, BASF acquires and opens new rest homes for its employees. Along with the original facilities close to Ludwigshafen, convalescent homes now exist in Breitnau in the Black Forest and in Westerland on the North Sea island of Sylt.
For the first time since the war, BASF resumes production activities outside Germany. Together with the M. Hamers company, it founds the manufacturing firm known as Companhia de Produtos Químicos Idrongal in Guaratinguetá, Brazil, which is already producing small amounts of Styropor by 1958. One year later it is producing sodium hydrosulfite, Rongalit, and polymer dispersions. Guartinguetá remains BASF’s largest site in South America to this day.
The synthesis of hydroxylamine by catalytic hydrogenation of nitrogen oxide with hydrogen in 1956 makes it possible to produce caprolactam, a precursor for synthetic polyamide fibers, cost-efficiently. Stockings made of this material become affordable.
In Argentina, Sulfisud S.A. is founded as a joint venture with local companies. It starts producing dyestuff auxiliaries such as hydrosulfite and Rongalit in 1959.
In 1957, BASF builds a 102 meter high office building, a clear symbol of reconstruction and a fresh start. The Friedrich Engelhorn building is Germany’s first skyscraper built with reinforced concrete. It becomes a Ludwigshafen landmark. In 2013 the demolition of BASF's high-rise begins. The same year an architectural competition for the successor building is advertised.
The foundation is laid for BASF’s current activities in the USA. In 1958, BASF and Dow Chemical Company jointly set up Dow Badische Chemical Company in Freeport, Texas. It starts producing basic chemicals and fiber intermediates in 1959, and later adding fibers themselves. Dow Chemical Company leaves the joint venture 20 years later.
In France, BASF founds Dispersions Plastiques S.A. with French partners to manufacture Styropor and acrylate-based polymer dispersions.
BASF shares are listed on the Paris stock exchange at the end of 1959, and in early 1960 on three Swiss exchanges in Zurich, Basel and Geneva.
In 1960, BASF supplements its range of dyes in line with developments in textile fibers. It adds Palanil and Basacryl for dyeing synthetic fibers to its existing dyes for wool and cotton. Other developments follow: Six years later, the first Cottestren dyes are developed for cotton/polyester blends. In 1978, the range is extended to include dyes suitable for printing these blends.
The breakneck pace of growth during Germany’s "economic miracle" leads to a labor shortage and the country looks for migrant labor from abroad. The federal labor agency opens a branch in Italy in 1960, the same year in which BASF hires its first Italian employees. These are followed by workers from Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey, as well as Brazilians of German descent and Vietnamese refugees.
1961 sees the launch of Floranid, the first synthetic organic slow-release fertilizer.
BASF’s research facilities are restructured in 1962. The plastics and dyestuffs laboratories become independent units alongside the two traditional facilities: the central research laboratory and the ammonia laboratory. This means key application areas can be more closely integrated. At the same time, the link between research and departments responsible for production and applications is enhanced.
In 1963, Yuka Badische Company Ltd. begins producing Styropor in Japan. Due to the hurdles facing non-Japanese companies in the Japanese market, the plant is operated as a joint venture with a Japanese partner. BASF takes the same approach in its other Japanese operations, and it is not until 1988 that BASF opens its own plant for the production of auxiliaries. Today, around 37 percent of BASF’s sales in Japan are from products manufactured in the country.
For the first time, BASF’s applications department extends its intensive customer support activities it has been pursuing now for years to include design. It holds an “International Luran Competition” in 1963, calling for designs of breakfast services made from the thermoplastic material Luran, with the aim of providing trendsetting examples of plastic molded by technically flawless means into aesthetic consumer goods. Easy processing by injection molding coupled with high strength and thermal resistance properties make BASF’s polystyrene copolymer into a bestseller for technical applications and household appliances. This doubles the company’s production capacity for Luran, whose name contains a reference to its key component acrylonitrile: LU(dwigshafen) R(hine) A(crylo) N(itrile). A second Luran competition is held in 1964. Plastics and design go hand in hand at BASF ever since. Starting in 1970, the cantilever chair by Verner Panton, the legendary Panton chair, is made of Luran-S from BASF. Its successor, the Myto chair by designer Konstantin Grcic (2007), is made of Ultradur High Speed from BASF.
From riverside to seaside: BASF establishes a site in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1964. It soon becomes BASF’s second largest European site. Easy access to raw materials and excellent transportation links to overseas customers fuel this development. The site produces fertilizers, fiber intermediates, plastics and chemicals.
A brand new selective herbicide for use in sugar beet cultivation, Pyramin, is launched in 1964.
BASF’s first data center upgrades with new technology by replacing the last tabulating machines by electronic mainframe. In 1911, BASF was one of the first companies in Germany to introduce mechanical data processing.
New horizons in environmental protection: After lengthy trials with various types of furnace, the first two rotary furnaces for incinerating residues from chemical production plants go into operation. Today, eight furnaces play a key role in BASF’s waste disposal concept.