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Wacky World of Rubber: Family tree of Lanxess Naugatuck site

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Photo by Bruce Meyer, Rubber & Plastics News Dave Sikora, head of the Naugatuck Research Center for Lanxess, displays his family tree of how the firm came to own the two laboratories on the site.

NAUGATUCK, Conn.—Dave Sikora of Lanxess views himself as a bit of a history buff in the chemical industry.

Every day he goes to work knowing that the Naugatuck Research Center he oversees has a rich and storied history. Since its inception, the facility has seen a lot of change. To understand it, Sikora, who is the head of polymer additives technologies in North America for Lanxess Solutions U.S. Inc., saw a need for a sort of family tree.

And who better to put it together than an history buff with a penchant for digging up the stories that helped to shape the chemicals industry?

During a recent event at Lanxess' Naugatuck Research Center, Sikora, used the family tree he'd fashioned to share the history of the facility and the company that Lanxess has come to own.

Even with the guide, the story can get a bit confusing, as with name changes and acquisitions, there's quite a bit to the history.

The simple answer to how Lanxess came to own the two laboratories on the site is simple: it gained ownership through its 2017 acquisition of Chemtura. Of course, the long answer is much more complicated, which makes for several large branches on a family tree with deep roots.

For starters, the main branch dates back to 1892 and the formation of U.S. Rubber Co., followed in 1904 with the forming of Naugatuck Chemical Co. Those two merged, and for decades U.S. Rubber had a large footprint in Naugatuck. That included its footwear operations closer to downtown, and, more on the outskirts of town, its chemical facilities. They sat on an 88-acre site that at one time included some 40 buildings.

Photo by Bruce Meyer, Rubber & Plastics News This marker designates the site as a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society, honoring the role played in the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II.

The chemicals complex included a synthetic rubber operation that was part of the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II. But now just the two labs remain on the chemicals site, with the Elm Street lab sporting a marker naming it a National Historic Chemical Landmark from the American Chemical Society.

Along, the way, U.S. Rubber was renamed Uniroyal Inc. in 1965. Turmoil hit the firm in 1985 when Carl Icahn raided the public company, leading to a subsequent leveraged buyout of the firm by management and Clayton & Dubilier Inc. Uniroyal Chemical was spun off around 1989. In 1996, it merged with Crompton & Knowles to form a specialty chemicals company with about $1.75 billion in sales.

According to Sikora's scorecard, that side of the family tree dates back to the George Crompton Loom Works, formed in 1940, and the Lucius Knowles Power Looms, formed in 1862. Those two formed Crompton & Knowles in 1897, with various firms coming under its wing over the years, including Industrial Colors in 1954 and Davis-Standard in 1960.

Sikora said Crompton & Knowles had more of a history in looms and fabrics in Massachusetts, and in 1999 merged with Witco Corp. Witco itself dated to 1920 as the Wishnick Trumpeer Chemical Co., formed in 1920 and renamed Witco in 1943. It also had a variety of brands and companies pass through its holdings over the years, including Argus, NRP Holland, Surpass Chemical, Humko, Schering and OSi Specialties.

The short-lived name of that combination was CK Witco, which Sikora said brought a lot of confusion to the marketplace. "I think (the name) lasted all of six months," he said. "I have a vintage CK Witco t-shirt that's probably worth $20 on eBay. There aren't too many CK Witco souvenirs left.

There are, however, a couple of the Witco businesses that remain a part of Lanxess, Sikora said.

So the name was changed to Crompton in 2000. Fast forward about five years and the firm merged with Great Lakes Chemical Co., itself a company that traced its roots back to 1936 in Michigan. Sikora said there also are a number of GLCC products left in Lanxess.

The Elm Street Laboratory is one of two labs that are part of the Lanxess Naugatuck Research Center.

That merger also brought the name change to Chemtura Corp., which Lanxess purchased in April 2017.

Sikora himself has a history in the chemical industry that dates back 38 years. He was with Monsanto in various technology positions from 1980 through 1997. The past nearly 21 years have been spent with Chemtura and its predecessors, and then staying on with Lanxess after the acquisition.

He views his attraction to the chemical industry's history as a labor of love, wanting to see how the whole thing fits together.

"The way the chemical industry is now, you kind of need a road map," Sikora said. "With DowDuPont, it will even get a little more confusing. It's kind of like a hobby. I'm real interested the history of the chemical industry. Why does Lanxess make the kind of chemicals they do? Why does BASF make the kind of chemicals they do. How did DuPont get into these kind of chemicals?"

He said in the end, it all makes sense. It's just like a puzzle with all kinds of different pieces. Or, in this case, a family tree with seemingly endless numbers of branches.

Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, and he sees potential rubber-related stories nearly everywhere he goes. Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.