Series, part 2: Chemical background and pioneering patents [continued]
90 years ago, on 27. October 1928, Röhm & Haas AG, Darmstadt, received a patent for an innovative new plastic with the awkward name polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). German Imperial Patent (DRP) 656642 was the result of sixteen years of research in the acrylate chemistry field.
Röhm & Haas, a medium-sized company with about 250 employees in 1918 (Ackermann 1967, 16 and 122), had won the race against such flagships of the chemical industry as BASF in Germany or Imperial Chemical Industries in Great Britain, but soon decided to try and co-operate with its rivals – on a contractual basis and for their mutual benefit. After the plastic patent had been granted, it still took a few more years of development work before PMMA began to cause a stir under the trade name “Plexiglas” (“Acrylic”). As a result, the annual sales of Röhm & Haas AG grew rapidly, from 466,000 Reichsmarks in 1934 to more than 23 million Reichsmarks in 1940 (Ackermann 1967, 84). Credit for this is due not only to the company founder Dr Otto Röhm (1876-1839), who obtained his doctorate at Tübingen University in 1901 with a thesis about acrylic acid polymerisation products, but also to the research chemists recruited by Röhm, above all Dr Walter Hermann Bauer (1893-1968). After the end of the First World War, Bauer had brought new ideas and fresh energy to the acrylic research operations at Röhm & Haas and made the decisive advances – initially in the synthesis of the monomers C4H6O2(acrylic acid methyl ester or methyl acrylate) and C5H8O2(methacrylic acid methyl ester or methyl methacrylate) and then in their polymerisation into marketable products in the form of safety glass and acrylic glass panelling. In part 2 of the short series about Acrylic, k-onlineoutlines this complicated and difficult process.