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From the archives: The 1950s

C&EN chronicles the breakup of IG Farben and the origin stories of three German chemical giants

by Alexander H. Tullo
June 11, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 19

Logo with text "A look back at how C&EN has covered noteworthy events in chemistry over the past 100 years."

A major theme of C&EN’s business coverage in the 1950s was the redevelopment of the European chemical industry after World War II. Chemical plants, especially in Germany, were the targets of heavy bombardment, and they were desperately needed to help rebuild European economies in peacetime. One article from 1953 captures in meticulous detail a crucial event: the breakup of IG Farben. Major German chemical companies formed the IG Farben cartel in 1925, and by the time the war started, it comprised nearly 85% of the country’s chemical sector. Following Allied occupation, the cartel split up. The largest firm that spun off from IG Farben was Farbenfabriken Bayer, centered in Leverkusen. By 1953, about four-fifths of the war damage at Bayer’s facilities was “made good,” according to C&EN’s reporting. The second-largest IG Farben firm to become independent was Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik. The company, better known as BASF, is now the world’s largest chemical maker. Farbwerke Hoechst was the third major firm. It lives on today within firms such as Celanese, Clariant, and the pharmaceutical maker Sanofi. Minor firms that spun off of IG Farben included Mainkur and Chemische Werke Hüls. “German officials say that the IG Farben successor companies will enable the German chemical industry to regain its prewar reputation, making it again able to compete scientifically and technically. However, it will have to compete economically with countries that can produce more cheaply,” the article states. These officials would have been satisfied with the results.

A scanned image of a C&EN article with the headline "World Wide Chemistry".
Credit: C&EN


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