100 years of chemistry
On March 26, 2020, we celebrated our 100th anniversary.
When Kemira was founded in 1920, its main job was to provide fertilizers for Finnish farmers. Today, water, the lifeblood of human existence, is what we focus on in all our business segments from pulp and paper to water treatment and the energy sector. Over the last 100 years we have overcome many challenges and have always come out stronger as a company and better equipped to help our customers and the society.
We are now, perhaps more than ever in a strong position to continue solving society's challenges through chemistry - in close collaboration with our customers and other business partners.
100 years of chemistry
1920 Kemira founded
On March 1, 1920 the Council of State (Finland) established a committee to start and maintain the state-owned Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants. Parliament approved the appropriation for the establishment of the plants on March 26, 1920 and Kemira was founded with Felix Hedman as Managing Director.
1922 Production starts
In spring 1922, the Lappeenranta Sulfuric acid plant and Kotka A superphosphate plant was established, which marks the beginning of domestic fertilizer production.
1925 First production expansion
The Parliament approved a bill to expand sulfuric acid and superphosphate production towards the end of 1925, and the expansions were completed by the end of 1927.
1933 The fertilizer plants are incorporated
The worldwide depression set in motion by the 1929 US stock market crash also reached Finland, leading to decreased demand for fertilizers and scaled down production. In December, the state-owned plants were re-formed into the Sulfuric acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation.
1935 New management
Following the death of Felix Hedman, Fredrik Gustaf Hackzell was appointed Manager of the Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation in 1935.
1939 Outbreak of World War II
A shortage of raw materials used in production led to the plants being shut down for long periods of time, and production plummeted just as the need for fertilizer was at its most desperate.
1940–1945 Fertilizer import
The Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation was charged with the responsibility of fertilizer import in April 1940 to fill the production gaps stemming from the raw material shortage. The role proved to be instrumental for vital imports from Norway and Germany.
1944 New competition in the fertilizer industry
The state-owned Typpi Oy was founded on March 6, 1944 to produce ammonia fertilizer becoming the first major competitor over the following decades.
1945 The Kokkola sulfuric acid plant starts production
The Kokkola sulfuric acid plant was approved and started production after the war in May 1945 and soon after superphosphate also began. The Kokkola plants became one of the corporation’s key plant complexes.
1946 Entering gunpowder production
On the Council of State’s initiative in 1946, the state-owned gunpowder plant became a subsidiary of the Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation and the gunpowder factory’s name was changed to Vihtavuori Oy.
1952 Dividing markets
Typpi Oy was a major competitor of the Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation, but the two companies entered cooperation with a contract signed in 1952.
1955 Martti Hovi as Managing Director
Martti Hovi became the Managing Director of the corporation after Fredrik Gustaf Hackzell retired in 1955. Agronomist Hovi was one of Sulfuric acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation’s own, having started his career at the company already in 1940. Hovi lead the corporation for 20 years, until 1975.
1957 Beyond fertilizer production
Vuorikemia Oy was founded on June 8, 1957 in order to produce titanium oxide from sulfuric acid. A titanium oxide plant was built in Pori, the first real step beyond fertilizer production for the company.
1960 Aluminum sulphate plant
October 1960 saw the launch of a new aluminum sulphate plant in Harjavalta, the company’s second venture beyond the fertilizer industry. The aluminum sulphate was used, for example, in the paper industry and water purifying.
1961 Name change
The Sulfuric Acid and Superphosphate Plants Corporation changed its name into Rikkihappo Oy at the beginning of the 1960s. Together with the name change, there were also organizational changes in order to streamline operations.
1962 Expansions in Kokkola
The production of sulfuric acid was increased at the Kokkola plants and production of sodium sulfate for paper manufacture, and calcium chloride used as road deicing salt was also started. The investment was the company’s largest up to that point, making it a wide-ranging operator in the chemical industry. As the sulfuric acid production capacity in Kokkola was expanded, its production in Lappeenranta stopped.
1971 Merger with a rival
The state-owned fertilizer companies Rikkihappo Oy and Typpi Oy signed a merger agreement on June 11, 1971, resulting only one state-owned fertilizer producer left in Finland: Rikkihappo Oy.
1972 Chemistry, minerals, nutrients
Rikkihappo Oy’s name was changed to Kemira Oy on July 1, 1972. The new name came about through a naming competition for employees and is thought to come from the Finnish words for chemistry, minerals and nutrients: kemiaa, mineraaleja and ravinteita.
1972 Significant paint producer
In May 1972 all shares of Oy Schidlt & Hallberg Ab were transferred to Kemira. The company acquisition was a significant expansion into the paint industry. The subsidiary named Tikkurilan Väritehtaat Oy became one of our most essential supporting pillars for decades.
1974 First steps in internationalization
The acquisition of Säteri was the first in Kemira’s internationalization, but the foreign subsidiaries were sold by the end of the decade. In 1975, Martti Hovi was transferred to the position of chairman of the board and Yrjö Pessi took on the duties as Managing Director.
1980 Siilinjärvi phosphate mine
The Siilinjärvi phosphate mine was opened on March 26, 1980, our 60th anniversary. The phosphate obtained in Siilinjärvi was exceptionally pure, which ensured a competitive advantage for the fertilizers produced from it.
1982 Increasingly international
Kemira found it important to respond to the expansion of its Norwegian competitor Norsk Hydron and acquired the British Lindsey & Kestevan Fertilisers Limited in 1982. This began our internationalization with acquisitions in the following years for fertilizer plants in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.
1984 Trouble in Britain
Tikkurila acquired the British MacPherson Paints Ltd in 1984 to access the Western European market. The company was sold at the beginning of the 1990s when it did not deliver the desired results. Tikkurila then focused its operations on the Baltic region, instead of Western Europe.
Kemira had faith in the rise of biotechnology, investing in gene technology and biotechnology. However, the biotechnology group couldn’t fulfill its goals, and we broke away from the industry during the 1990s.
1989 Hydrochemistry from Sweden
In 1989, The Swedish Boliden Kemi AB, a traditional pulp and paper industry expert who also had strong hydrochemistry expertise was acquired. Providing a solid foundation in Europe, we continued acquisitions in the hydrochemistry industry. As a result, hydrochemistry expertise quickly became one of our cornerstones at Kemira.
1991 Setback in Britain
The British Department of Commerce and Industry put an end to the expansion of Kemira’s fertilizer group in Europe by denying the sale of 10 ICI Group fertilizer plants to Kemira. We also faced challenges from the recession that started at the same time. In September 1991 Heimo Karinen began as Kemira’s CEO with the unpleasant job of restructuring the company.
1991 Restructuring begins
One of the first tasks for CEO Karinen was to close the Oulu fertilizer plant on November 27, 1991. Under the direction of Karinen, Kemira Coatings Ltd, i.e. the former MacPherson trade and construction paint business, as well as some operations of the biotechnology group, were quickly sold.
1994 Stock exchange listing
Kemira’s stock exchange listing finally went through when the Ministry of Trade and Industry changed its stance on the issue. In connection with the listing, Kemira’s lines of production were corporatized, and we became a holding company with independent subsidiaries accountable for their profit and loss.
1997 Investments in hydrogen peroxide
A new hydrogen peroxide plant was built on the Helsingborg site in Sweden in 1997, and during the following year, the hydrogen peroxide plant of the South Korean Hanwha Chemical Corporation was taken over by Kemira. Furthermore, the Oulu plants were expanded to produce peracetic acid. As a result, we were in an increasingly competitive position in the changing paper industry.
1997 Divestments continue
The Vihtavuori gunpowder plant had never properly matched Kemira’s range, and the majority stock of the paper mill was transferred to the State in early 1997. Kemira Fibres Oy, Säteri’s successor, was sold to the Indonesian April group in June 1997.
2002 Dendrochemistry expertise
In February 2002, Kemira acquired the American Vinings Industries Inc. The deal made us a globally significant supplier of specialty chemicals for the forestry sector.
2003 Management upheaval
Kemira’s board of directors was reorganized in April 8, 2003, and in November of the same year, the CEO was also changed. On February 1, 2004, Lasse Kurkilahti replaced Tauno Pihlava, who had led the company for four years.
2004 Breaking away from fertilizers
In October 2004, Kemira GrowHow, formerly called Agro, was separated from Kemira. GrowHow’s shares were distributed as dividend payments to stockholders, and we sold just under a third of our stock to investors with the remaining shares sold in May of the following year.
2005 Leading chemical producer for paper and pulp
With the acquisition of both Finnish Chemical’s plants in February and German Lanxess’ paper business in December. we became the world’s leading producer of chemicals for the paper and pulp industry and the only producer in the world with a full line of products for pulp bleaching. The acquisition of Cytec’s hydrochemical and acrylamide businesses in the US in 2006 significantly strengthened our expertise in the fields of hydrochemistry, oil and mining.
2007 No longer a state-owned company
State transfers less than a third of Kemira’s shares to domestic investors, reducing state ownership from 48.6% to 16.5%. Oras Invest, owned by the Paasikivi family, became the largest owner.
2008 New strategy
Harri Kerminen started as the CEO of the company, while Kurkilahti continued as an advisor to the company’s Board of Directors.
Kemira announced new strategy shifting focus to hydrochemistry and water-intensive industries, such as pulp and paper, oil and mining, as well as municipal and industrial water treatment. Water purification, hydrochemicals and other water technology already accounted for three fourths of the company’s turnover the year following the publication of the strategy.
2010 Farewell to paint
In March 2010, Tikkurila was listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange and we distributed 86 percent of its shares as dividends. With the separation of Tikkurila, we lost a significant part of its turnover, but at the same time, it was an expression of the new strategy.
2010 Further focus on hydrochemistry
As we focused on our water-related businesses aligned to our strategy, the Kokkola sulfuric acid plant was sold to Boliden Kokkola Oy on 1 May 2010 and the formic acid business to Taminco on December 23, 2013.
2013 Where water meets chemistry (?)
On July 1, 2013, Kemira announced the acquisition the Italian 3F Chimica, a producer of polymers for industry and wastewater treatment strengthening its position as one of the leading international polymer manufacturers. In the following year, we further strengthened our position in the packaging board industry and in the Asian market by acquiring AkzoNobel’s paper chemical business.
2014 Jari Rosendal sets a new course
Jari Rosendal started as the CEO on May 1, 2014, replacing Wolfgang Büchele, who was the first foreign CEO of Kemira from 2012.
Expanding our footprint in the growing APAC region, the Nanjing, China plant was opened. And our commitment to the pulp and paper industry was demonstrated with the acquisition of the BASF AKD emulsion business and the expansion of our production at Telêmaco Borba, Brazil.
2015 Expanding to meet customer needs
Focus on pulp and paper industry continued in 2015, with expansion at San Giorgio, Italy targeting the tissue industry in EMEA. During the same year, the acquisition of AkzoNobel paper chemicals business was completed in May. The following year, the Ortiguiera, Brazil site began production of sodium chlorate and in 2017, the Joutseno sodium chlorate expansion was successfully started up.
In June 2015, production started at our new water treatment chemicals plant in Tarragona, Spain.
2018 Adding to your everyday
In 2017, a new sizing production line opened in Nanjing, China and an investment in our Estella, Spain site brought new wet strength resin production to the site.
To further strengthen our position as a leading global supplier for the Pulp & Paper industry, Kemira formed a joint venture (NewCo) in China with AKD producer, Shandong Tiancheng Wanfeng Chemical Technology. A multi-million euro investment to expand production at our Joutseno chlor-alkali site in Finland was announced in April.
2019 Addressing market demand
In 2019, we announced significant capacity extension of our ferric sulfate water treatment chemicals production line in Goole, UK to address expected market demand for coagulants used in water treatment, driven by stricter regulation regarding e.g. phosphorus removal. We also broke ground on a polymer expansion at our Mobile, USA site and added sodium chlorate capacity to our Eastover, USA plant.
In February, we announced challenging new climate change targets to reach carbon neutrality by 2045.
On March 26, we celebrated 100 years of chemistry.