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The economic boom in the Federal Republic of Germany continues on into the mid-1960s. But in 1967, the country slides into its first recession. Its gross domestic product declines by 0.2 percent instead of rising by 8 percent a year as before. Instead of a shortage of workers there is now a shortage of jobs. Public voices call for the state to rethink its policies and to play an active role in economic development. The government eventually introduces long-overdue reforms. An investment program and a stability act introduced by a grand coalition of the two major political parties once again lead to full employment and a booming economy.

“The founders of BASF recognized from the outset that the only way to compete successfully in dyes and other high-performance chemical products over the long term is to produce the necessary raw materials and precursors to a large extent themselves, and to promote and fund research. They therefore created a system which BASF has followed for 100 years and which has played a key role in the company’s success.” This is how Carl Wurster summarizes BASF’s first 100 years at the anniversary celebration in 1965. The centenary year also marks the beginning of a new stage in the company’s history: BASF is expanding on a global basis by building or acquiring new production sites at home and abroad, and thus moving its production closer to its markets.

In the Realm of Chemistry: 100 years of BASF

BASF moves to secure its supply of energy to the Ludwigshafen site by opening a power station in Marl. Until 1990, it generates electricity from ballast coal from the Auguste Victoria mine, which is fed to the Ludwigshafen site via the grid operated by the Rheinisch- Westfälische Elektrizitätswerke (RWE), a utility company.

The company’s strategy moves increasingly towards a focus on more highly refined products. In its centenary year, BASF acquires the Glasurit producer M. Winkelmann AG, one of Europe’s largest coatings companies. This represents the first step toward a market which is closer to the customer. A valuable addition to the Glasurit product range is made in 1967 by the acquisition of Dr. Beck & Co. AG. This company specializes in manufacturing insulating coatings and materials (no longer in today’s portfolio) for the electrical industry. BASF adds industrial and construction coatings to its product range in 1968 by acquiring a majority stake in the Herbol factory of Herbig Haarhaus AG. Two years later it strengthens its position in pigments and printing inks by acquiring two more companies, Siegle and Kast + Ehinger. These additions lay the foundation for today’s BASF Coatings GmbH, which is one of the world’s top three manufacturers of automotive coatings (OEM) and automotive refinish coatings. Regarding the coating of aluminum and steel brands, BASF Coatings is number two. 

Direct contact with the customer: Glasurit coatings used at Volkswagen AG
Direct contact with the customer: Glasurit coatings used at Volkswagen AG (Picture credits by Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft)

Following 18 months of construction, BASF’s magnetic tape plant in Willstätt near Kehl on the Rhine River starts operations in 1966. It produces audio and video cassettes, electronic storage media, and printing plates for the graphics industry.

BASF Española S.A. is founded in Barcelona, and three years later starts producing Styropor in Tarragona. Today, Tarragona is one of BASF’s most important sites in Europe. In addition to Styropor, it makes dispersions, catalysts, agricultural products, and UP resins. Since 2003, BASF operates the world’s largest propane dehydrogenation facility in Tarragona as part of a joint venture. With an annual capacity of 350,000 tons, it is one of the largest propylene plants in the world.

The Flotzgrün landfill on the Rhine River near Speyer starts operations. BASF Aktiengesellschaft uses this well-ordered and monitored site for depositing inert solid waste.

In 1967, phthalic anhydride, an important preliminary product for plasticizers, is made using a new and more cost-effective process. Continuous production is now possible, and oxylene replaces naphthalene as a raw material.

The year 1967 also sees the launch of Styropor production by BASF Australia Ltd. Today, BASF also makes dispersions among other products in Australia.

BASF acquires Nordmark-Werke GmbH in Hamburg in 1968. Founded in 1927, this pharmaceutical company specializes in drugs for treating central nervous system dysfunctions, cardiovascular and circulatory changes, and infectious diseases. This marks the start of BASF’s pharmaceutical activities.

Nyloprint, a photopolymer plate for relief printing developed by BASF, is launched. These new printing plates quickly prove superior to conventional block materials. BASF Drucksysteme GmbH introduces a new form of book printing that permits the direct transfer of data to the printing plate in 2002, and a special plate for security printing in 2003. BASF sells its printing systems business in 2004. Located at the periphery of chemistry and engineering, the activities were moving ever further away from chemistry and hence from BASF’s core business areas.

BASF employs 86,428 people worldwide in 1968.

Bernhard Timm (1909-1992, Chairman of the BASF Board of Executive Directors from 1965 to 1974) summarizes BASF's development at an anniversary event in 1969: “Following a successful reconstruction effort that may well be unprecedented in the history of industry and which by its nature initially benefited the Ludwigshafen site, BASF has developed resolutely over recent years into the worldwide BASF Group. In addition to the major focus on Ludwigshafen with its strong central research facilities, its diverse operations and rich store of experience, its engineering resources and newly established sales organization as well as all of its auxiliary facilities, the Group also has acquired numerous new operating sites in different locations as well as joint ventures with other partners. [...] On the long road of refining simple raw materials into high-grade chemical products, we have thus gained the unique ability to select the best respective operating conditions that promise the optimum yields. Moreover, by expanding our foundation, we generate the conditions for developing strengths on the upper floors of our chemical building as well, which are needed to master ever tougher competitive conditions.” 

Crude oil feed at Wintershall
Crude oil feed at Wintershall

The merger with Wintershall, one of Germany’s oldest oil and gas companies, gives BASF access to its own petrochemical feedstocks as of 1969. A joint statement by the boards of the two companies reads: “The collaboration by our two companies, and the ability to coordinate the opportunities made available by refineries with the demands of the chemical industry in further processing raw materials, will yield the greatest possible degree of economic benefit. Combining the financial strengths of the two companies will enable the opportunities in oil production and processing to be utilized more swiftly and effectively.”

By acquiring Wyandotte Chemicals Corporation based in Wyandotte, Michigan, BASF strongly expands its activities in the USA. The company’s main plants are located in Wyandotte, Michigan, and Geismar, Louisiana. The product ranges of BASF and its new subsidiary complement each other in ideal form. Wyandotte’s strong position in chemical raw materials such as ethylene and propylene oxide as well as in polyurethane chemistry, combined with the expertise at BASF, opens the door to refinement chemical activities with high-yield follow-up products such as crop protection agents and organic intermediates.

Geismar plant in North America, 1988
Geismar plant in North America, 1988

Simultaneous acquisition of the Elastomer/Elastogran Group in Europe (100 percent stake acquired in 1971) paves the way for BASF’s entry into polyurethanes – foamed plastics that are used widely in automotive production as well as in sports and leisure items.

The engineering plastics portfolio is expanded: Founded together with Degussa in 1969, Ultraform GmbH begins producing an acetal copolymer in 1971. Ultraform is suitable for all applications that place a premium on rigidity, dimensional stability, and wear resistance, such as shower heads and machine parts, and since 1974 also in the often stressed parts of Playmobil figures such as hip joints and hands.

In 1970, Wintershall and the Salzdetfurth Group combine their business interests in the potash and rock salt sector into the newly founded Kali und Salz AG (K+S) under the BASF roof. It owns 14 potash and salt mines in West Germany. Potash and rock salt are of great interest in BASF’s fertilizer production activities.

World-scale plants for the production of vitamin A and E come on stream opening a new field of activity. Further products for nutrition, such as carotenoids, are gradually added.

Horst Pommer began his work on a new technical synthesis of vitamin A. The breakthrough in the process development came from an external stimulus in the form of the so-called Wittig reaction in 1954. The technical synthesis of vitamin A was ready in 1963.

In 1973, the first oil crisis triggers a long period of turbulence in the global economy. BASF also feels its impact in the procurement of raw materials, in production, and in the maintenance of energy supplies.

Following 17 years of research and planning, the first wastewater treatment plant at the Ludwigshafen site starts operations in December 1974. With a biological purification stage, it is the key element in a sophisticated water concept that uses separate canal systems for wastewater and cooling water as well as pretreatment systems in numerous plants. Built at a cost of 500 million marks, it is the largest facility in Europe. In terms of capacity, the treatment plant could purify the wastewater of six to seven million people.

BASF’s wastewater treatment plant: One of the largest in Europe
BASF’s wastewater treatment plant: One of the largest in Europe

The wastewater plant is continuously improved and upgraded. In the 1990s, BASF experts work to reduce the amount of ammonium – a substance that can overly enrich water systems – in wastewater. In 1995, BASF makes a voluntary commitment to reduce its nitrogen emissions into the Rhine River by 50 percent.

As of 2001, the treatment plant uses a nitrification process, which significantly lowers annual nitrogen emission levels from 3,500 tons in 2001 to 865 tons in 2004. BASF extends its voluntary commitment to lower Nitrogen emissions in 2004, and successfully so – in 2013, the level of nitrogen emissions to the Rhine lies at 593 tons.

Another important step is taken in combating weeds: Basagran controls hitherto hard-to-control weeds in the cultivation of grain crops, especially for the major subtropical crops of soybeans and rice. Basagran has an additional advantage – when used in combination with other herbicides, it plays an important role in no-till farming systems developed to prevent soil erosion in the American Midwest and in Brazil.

Activities in the pharmaceutical sector are expanded: In 1975, BASF acquires a majority stake in Knoll AG (100 percent stake acquired in 1982). In addition to drugs, the product range of the Ludwigshafen-based Knoll Group includes active pharmaceutical ingredients, fine chemicals, hospital supplies, and sanitary articles.

The Nordhafen harbor is inaugurated in 1976. As a transfer point for combustible liquids such as naphtha, methanol, and gases liquefied under pressurized conditions, it is of major importance to BASF. In 2009, 2,423 ships dock in its basin measuring 140,000 square meters, and 2.5 million tons of goods are transferred.

In 1977, a second plant for producing polypropylene plastics starts operations at Rheinische Olefinwerke GmbH (ROW) in Wesseling, a joint venture of BASF and Deutsche Shell AG. A special feature is a new gas phase process developed by BASF that has an excellent environmental profile and that enables production of extremely rigid and hard polypropylene grades that are especially suitable for engineered components.

A plant in Ludwigshafen starts operations for producing 90,000 tons of acrylic acid based on polypropylene annually. Until now, BASF has produced this exceptionally important and versatile chemical raw material using the Reppe process, in which carbon monoxide and water are added to acetylene. The new process development represents another breakthrough by the engineers, who have been working intensively on controlled catalytic oxidation of organic compounds with air. Technological progress breeds financial success: In 2014, BASF has an annual acrylic acid capacity of 1.19 million tons and leads the world on the market for glacial acrylic acid and acrylic esters. Acrylic monomers are starting materials for a wide variety of applications and end products – from coatings, adhesives, water treatment products and plastics to detergents and textile fibers. Acrylic acid in the form of so-called polyacrylate may also be found in superabsorbers in diapers.

Production begins in Indonesia: BASF initially manufactures magnetic tape cassettes in addition to inorganic pigments and pigment preparations. In subsequent years production is extended to cover different areas of chemistry, in particular dispersions and process chemicals.

In 1978, BASF acquires 100 percent of Dow Badische Chemical Company based in Williamsburg, Virginia. This broadens the base for further expanding BASF’s chemical operations and its key fiber business, which was considerable in North America at the time.

Matthias Seefelder (1920-2001, Chairman of BASF’s Board of Executive Directors from 1974 to 1983) looks back on the past decade and into the future at the 1980 Annual Meeting:

“In taking leave from the 1970s, we can show good results despite the fact that the decade was a turbulent one in economic terms. Looking back, we can see how profoundly the conditions for our business have altered. The company itself has changed significantly over the past decade as well. We have systematically expanded our supplies of raw materials and feedstocks, while at the same time and in the other direction systematically invested in products with a higher degree of refinement and customer proximity. The increasingly narrow scope for growth in the traditional industrialized countries has made it necessary for us to expand our activities worldwide in order to use our expertise on a global scale. As we expect these trends to intensify in the 1980s, we have decided to further develop our organization. Worldwide product stewardship will thus become our guiding principle.”

One of BASF’s largest single investments in Ludwigshafen starts up operations. Built at a cost of 400 million marks, the steamcracker generates two key products from crude oil: ethylene and propylene, also known as naphtha. Two thirds of the steamcracker’s naphtha are supplied by ship and one third by pipeline.

Fascinating technology: Steam cracker in Ludwigshafen
Fascinating technology: Steam cracker in Ludwigshafen

BASF and Hyosung establish a joint venture in South Korea, which begins producing Styropor in 1982 and polystyrene in 1985. In 1988, a joint venture is set up to make MDI, a polyurethane preliminary product. In 2010, BASF has six production sites and more than 980 employees in South Korea.

Development of BASF’s product range of fragrances: Plants that use proprietary BASF processes to make citronellal, citronellol and hydroxycitronellal go on stream in Ludwigshafen in 1982. These substances are components of fragrances used in soaps and detergents.

BASF acquires a vitamin plant in Grenaa from the Danish company Grindsted, thus supplementing its vitamin production activities.

In 1983, BASF transfers sales of its agricultural products in Ireland to its newly founded subsidiary BASF Ireland Ltd., headquartered in Clonee near Dublin. BASF has been active on the Emerald Isle since 1926.

In 1984, Hungary becomes the first European state-controlled economy in which BASF invests. Kemipur GmbH, a joint venture by the BASF Group member Elastogran GmbH and Hungarian partners, produces polyurethane components. Elastogran acquires a majority stake in 1991. In the same year, BASF Hungaria Kft. is founded as an independent distributing company.

To strengthen its position on the key North American market, BASF makes a number of major acquisitions in 1985. It buys Celanese’s fiber-composite materials business, and it purchases American Enka to double its fiber activities, which are concentrated entirely on the North American continent. These two sectors are considered to have especially promising future prospects at the time.

The acquisition of Inmont represents a decisive step in developing the North American market for coatings and printing inks.

At the turn of 1985/86, BASF’s activities in North America are consolidated in BASF Corporation, a new Group company. In 2012, BASF Corporation has more than 16,000 employees and posts sales of 18.5 billion euros.

The aim of modern personnel policies is to achieve a better work/life balance. In 1986, BASF Aktiengesellschaft introduces its “Parent and Child” program to enable employees to take extended parental leave after the birth of a child. At the end of this period, they are guaranteed a job comparable to their previous position. BASF continues to build on this basis through 2014, helping employees combine work and a family by offering nursery and childcare facilities, vacation programs, a nanny finding service, parent networks, seminars for returnees to the workforce, retirement benefits, part-time work options, flexible working hours, and home office options.

Progress in biotechnology: BASF develops a biotechnological process for the production of vitamin B2 in 1987. It replaces the chemical synthesis of vitamin B2 at the Ludwigshafen site in 1990. This makes BASF a pioneer in the conversion from chemical to biotechnological methods on an industrial scale. In 2003, a new plant at the Gunsan site in Korea starts production of B2, which is increasingly being used in human and animal nutrition, for example, in the feed additive Lutavit. 

Synthetic vitamin B2 is produced in a single step
Synthetic vitamin B2 is produced in a single step

In 1988, BASF acquires the polymer dispersion business of Polysar Ltd., a Canadian company with production sites primarily in North America. Polymer dispersions are used as binding agents in the production of coated paper and cardboard as well as non-woven fabrics. They are also used for carpet backings, adhesives and coatings, in leather and textile production, the construction industry, and a large number of special applications. Although one of the largest producers of polymer dispersions worldwide with a broad product portfolio, BASF has thus far hardly been represented in this sector in North America.

A major investment in environmental protection: Following an investment of more than 200 million marks, the flue gas desulfurization facility for BASF Ludwigshafen’s central coal-fired power plant starts operations. The second part of the flue gas treatment system, a plant for removing nitrogen oxides, is added in 1990.

The new environmental monitoring center at the Ludwigshafen site opens in 1989. The center collects data from 46 monitoring stations. The atmospheric stations measure ground-level air pollutants, wind data, and other meteorological data in and around the site. Measurements taken include levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, dust, and organic carbon compounds. Cooling water discharged into the Rhine River is also monitored, as is the toximeter in the inflow of the wastewater treatment plant, which sounds an alarm if hazard levels are reached. Noise pollution data inside and outside the plant premises are also transmitted to the center. Employees and local residents can contact the center around the clock, and every call is followed up.