CHEMICAL INDUSTRY - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
CHEMICAL INDUSTRY. For the first 60 years of its existence, Cleveland knew only the rather homespun chemical industries of a typical rural community, time-honored processes such as dyeing, tanning, soapmaking, and bleaching. Cleveland was essentially one of several small towns along Lake Erie. Completion of the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL gave it a commercial advantage in the 1830s, and in the 1850s a growing railroad network enhanced Cleveland's potential as a transportation hub, giving it easy access to coal and oil from the east and south. The city's port on Lake Erie paved the way for its access to the ore fields of Michigan and Minnesota. Cleveland's chemical industry began to develop after the Civil War, in response to the emerging shipbuilding, oil, iron-and-steel, machine-tool, and automobile industries. In 1867 Eugene Ramiro Grasselli opened his first sulfuric acid plant in Cleveland adjacent to his major customer, the Rockefeller refinery on the banks of the CUYAHOGA RIVER. He soon moved the business he had founded in Cincinnati in 1839 to Cleveland, and found himself in competition with the Cleveland Chemical Works, whose interests he eventually acquired. Grasselli expanded his business by establishing new plants, or acquiring facilities already in operation in those places where the oil industry was rapidly developing. After his death in 1882, his son, CAESAR A. GRASSELLI, continued to pursue the policies established by his father. By 1900 the GRASSELLI CHEMICAL CO. had built or acquired plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Alabama. Their line of chemicals had expanded to include not only sulfuric acid, the staple used by the oil industry, but also hydrochloric, nitric, and acetic acids, a variety of salts, zinc pigments, phosphates, fertilizers, and even some coal-tar products. By 1903 the firm began to convert from the lead chamber to the contact process for making sulfuric acid. At this time, the Frasch process was making domestic sulfur available at competitive prices. With other acid makers, Grasselli began to convert from imported pyrites to native sulfur as the basic raw material for making sulfuric acid.
During these years, 2 of Cleveland's important paint industries emerged to supply the growing construction, shipbuilding, machine-tool, and automobile industries. Henry A. Sherwin and Truman Dunham formed a partnership in 1866, and in 1870, Edward P. Williams joined the reorganized partnership to form Sherwin, Williams & Co. By 1884 the name SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO. was adopted, and its paint products began to "cover the earth." The roots of the Glidden Co. were also being established, with the formation of the Glidden Varnish Co. in 1870. Both companies supplied coatings to the growing railroad car-building industry. In 1898 William A. Harshaw effected a merger of 2 companies he had founded: the Cleveland Commercial Co. and, the C. H. Price Co. of Elyria, to form the Harshaw, Fuller & Goodwin Co. to make oils, pigments, dry colors, and other chemical commodities. Many of these products were consumed by the paint manufacturers. The firm retained this name until 1919, when it moved into new quarters on E. 97th St. and became the HARSHAW CHEMICAL CO.
The early decades of the 20th century saw the emergence of an American chemical industry of international significance. World War I removed important German chemical products from the market and, at the same time, American industry was involved in the production of munitions and other war material. Cleveland's chemical industries reflected this development, particularly the Grasselli Chemical Co., which diversified its products to include copper and barium sulfates, silicates, a variety of sodium-and sulfur-containing salts, insecticides, and fungicides. The Grasselli Powder Co. also was formed by the merger of 3 powder companies in 1917 to make explosives. Germany was the principal international supplier of dyestuffs until 1914, and in the wake of World War I, the Grasselli Dyestuff Corp. was incorporated in 1924, to take advantage of the growing need for dyestuff materials. Grasselli possessed 26 plants in the Midwest, Northeast, and South and when Du Pont and Grasselli merged in 1928, Grasselli became a division of Du Pont. At that time, the Grasselli Dyestuff Corp. came under the control of the American I. G. Chemical Corp., a branch of the principal German producer of dyestuffs and remained so until 1941, when it was reorganized and "Americanized" by the Foreign Funds Control Unit of the U.S. Treasury. Harshaw, Fuller & Goodwin Co. diversified its product line on a more limited basis to include glycerin refining (1914), anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and aluminum chloride, antimony products, calcium oxides and hydrated lime, and copper and uranium chemicals (1942-45). Because of its role in the production of uranium chemicals during World War II, Harshaw received one of two 4-star army-navy E awards given out in the nation.
Between World War I and World War II, three major new companies appeared in Cleveland, the Glidden Co. (see GLIDDEN COATINGS & RESINS DIV. (IMPERIAL CHEMICAL INDUSTRIES)), the FERRO CORP., and MCGEAN-ROHCO, INC. The formation of Glidden is typical of the mergers that dominated the postwar years. Adrian D. Joyce acquired the assets of the Glidden Varnish Co. in 1917 and incorporated it as the Glidden Co. By 1919 Glidden had purchased 11 other manufacturers of paint products in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even California (the Whittier-Coburn Co. of San Francisco). It achieved diversification and expansion by continued acquisitions: the Euston Lead Co., Scranton, PA (1924); American Zirconium Corp. (1933); Southern Pine Chemical Co. (1938); and E. R. Durkee Co. (1929), to name a few. By 1947 Glidden had 35 factories and 26 research and control laboratories,, organized in 8 divisions: Paint & Varnish, Chemicals & Pigments, Metals Refining, Naval Stores, Vegetable Oils, Food Products, Soya Products, and Feed Mills. McGean-Rohco started out
The period following World War II can be characterized as one of internationalization and continued diversification through merger and acquisition which is well illustrated by the development of McGean-Rohco. In 1965 the McGean Chemical Co. was bought out by Chemetron; in 1973, R. O. Hull & Co. was bought out by the LUBRIZOL CORP. Both were ultimately purchased by groups of private investors and reestablished as the McGean Chemical Co. and Rohco respectively. Finally, in 1982, Rohco became a part of McGean, and the name was changed to McGean-Rohco, Inc.
The gradual decline of Cleveland's oil and iron-and-steel industries in the years following World War II, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, had a major effect on the ancillary chemical industries. Under Dwight P. Joyce, Glidden sold many of its interests in naval stores, soya products, and feed mills in order to consolidate its divisions and to expand and diversify its product line within a new framework. By 1966 it had reduced the number of its divisions to 4: Coatings & Resins, Foods, Chemicals, and Intl. In 1967 Glidden merged with the SCM Corp., eventually becoming Glidden Coatings & Resins-SCM. Harshaw Chemical Co. also expanded, diversified, and internationalized during the years following World War II. Some of its important acquisitions were Rufert Chemical and Zinsser & Co. (1953), Kentucky Color & Chemical (1958), Fermo Labs (1962), and Hammer Electronics and Molechem, Inc. (1964). It also formed Harshaw Chemical, Ltd., in 1956 to manufacture and distribute its products in Europe and Great Britain, and in 1960 it acquired an 85% interest in Harshaw-van der Hoorn of the Netherlands. At the time of its acquisition by Kewanee Industries, Inc. in 1966, Harshaw employed over 1,900 people and had plants and labs in Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California. In 1977 Kewanee Industries was acquired by the Gulf Oil Co. In 1983 Gulf Oil made Harshaw part of a joint venture between itself and Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Co., which was called the Harshaw-Filtrol Partnership.
Sherwin Williams also entered, into this process of diversification and internationalization after World War II. Some of its important acquisitions included the Rubberset Co. (1956), the Maumee Chemical Co. and Sprayon Products (1966), the Levitt Bros. Co. (which ran the home improvement departments in K-Mart) (1967), the OSBORN MANUFACTURING CORP. and Verffabrieken Ralson N.V. (1968), the Hadley Adhesives & Chemical Co. (1973), and some businesses of Dutch Boy, Inc., and the Ashland Chemical Co and Eagle Picher Co. (1980). Between 1981 and 1987 it owned GRAY DRUG STORES, INC. During the late 1970s, Sherwin William's disposed of certain businesses of its Chemicals Division, portions of its Coatings Chemicals and Intl. segments, the Sherwin-Williams Container Corp., and about 100 company-operated stores, reducing its divisions to 3 basic ones: Paint Stores (1935), Drug Stores (423), and Coatings. In Dec. 1984, Sherwin Williams employed over 19,000 throughout the world.
Ferro engaged in the merger and acquisition process following World War II, and even more so in the 1960s and 1970s. W. B. Lawson and the Ferro Drier & Chemical Co. were merged in 1946 to form the Ferro's Bedford Chemical Division. In the following years, at least 6 more domestic companies were acquired, and numerous foreign subsidiaries were set up. By 1966, Ferro possessed facilities in 11 states and foreign countries, including Japan, several South American countries, and South Africa, and employed 4,600, only half of these in the U.S. From 1966-86, Ferro averaged at least 1 new acquisition each year, as it expanded into 20 foreign countries and 12 states. In 1985 its employment stood at over 8,000. Its product lines included coatings, inorganic colorants, chemicals (especially polymer additives), ceramics, and thermoplastics (especially elastomeric).
Cleveland's chemical industries followed the trend toward greater diversification and expansion, and some became part of large, international conglomerates, such as SCM, Du Pont, and Gulf. This growth served 2 important purposes. It helped maintain profitability during transition periods, when a product or product line loses its importance, or when new products or product lines are being developed and tested, and it provided the broad economic base for active and viable research-and-development programs. The chemical industry in Cleveland has evolved from a locally operated one serving local manufacturing industries to an internationally diverse operation dependent upon an international market. Its viability in Cleveland in the 1980s was based not so much on proximity to natural resources or areas of product demand as upon the availability of a skilled research workforce and viable facilities to house that workforce.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 1997 04:19:07 PM
This site maintained by Case Western Reserve University