Wacker Celebrates Centennial Celebrating A Hundred Years in Chemicals

Editor: Dominik Stephan

Wacker Chemie is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding, 100 years after Alexander Wacker had his company “Dr. Alexander Wacker Gesellschaft für elektrochemische Industrie, KG” entered in the town of Traunstein’s commercial register on October 13, 1914.

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In 1918, Bavaria’s King Ludwig III visited the new Wacker site. The king is atthe picture’s center foreground at right, with Alexander Wacker at left (photo:Wacker Chemie AG).
In 1918, Bavaria’s King Ludwig III visited the new Wacker site. The king is atthe picture’s center foreground at right, with Alexander Wacker at left (photo:Wacker Chemie AG).
(Picture: Wacker)

Munich/Germany –The entrepreneur Alexander Wacker was born in Heidelberg in 1846. Trained as a businessman, Wacker had initially joined forces with Sigmund Schuckert to spread electrification across Germany. In 1903, he established the “Consortium für elektrochemische Industrie,” which today is Wacker’s corporate research department. His aim was to use electrochemical processes to manufacture useful chemical compounds based on carbide and its derivative, acetylene.

In 1914, Wacker received approval for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant and of a canal that would join the Alz and Salzach rivers. In his search for a suitable location, he chose a site close to the town of Burghausen (Bavaria). This site featured a 63-meter gradient between the Alz and the Salzach, which could be used to generate electricity. That same year he also founded “Alexander Wacker Gesellschaft für elektrochemische Industrie”: the origin of the Wacker Group. It was from this company that Wacker-Chemie (until 2005) and today’s Wacker Chemie (since 2006) would eventually emerge.

The first facilities within the Burghausen plant took advantage of the methods developed at the Consortium for synthesizing acetaldehyde, acetic acid and acetone. The direct oxidation of acetylene to acetaldehyde, a process licensed worldwide, played a crucial role.

The Dawn of Silicones Marked a New Era

Acetone, which was needed in large quantities for making synthetic rubber, was the principal sales driver in the fledgling company’s early years. Acetylene also provided the chemical basis for further products. Polyvinyl acetate, polyvinyl alcohol and polyvinyl chloride were all derived from acetylene chemistry.

In the 1940s, work began on two new product groups, both based on the element silicon: 1947 saw the dawn of the silicone era in Burghausen. Metallurgical-grade silicon was soon also used as a raw material for the manufacture of another key product: hyperpure silicon for the semiconductor industry.

Into the Future with Polymer Chemistry

Polymer chemistry also made great strides in the post-war years. In the early 1950s, Wacker chemists developed the principles for producing dispersible polymer powders for dry-mix mortars, which today are an integral part of many tile adhesives, plasters and building-insulation systems. In 1957, the first dispersible polymer powder production plant went on stream. Copolymers and terpolymers were additionally developed in quick succession. They considerably extended the range of properties and applications of dispersions. A milestone was achieved in 1960, when vinyl acetate-ethylene copolymer (VAE) was discovered. This discovery made it possible to produce inexpensive plastics with innovative properties.