Heraeus, the precious metals and technology group headquartered in Hanau, Germany, is a global, private company active in the businesses of precious metals, sensors, dental health, quartz glass, and specialty lighting sources. With revenues exceeding EUR 12 billion and more than 11,000 employees in more than 100 companies worldwide, Heraeus has stood out for over 155 years as a globally recognized precious metals and materials specialist.
As different as the products and scope of activity of the individual Heraeus companies may be, they can all be traced back to common roots, from extensive expertise in dealing with precious metals and the mastery of high-temperature processes to comprehensive innovative strength in materials technology. The diversified product portfolio evolved over years of experience, often accompanied by fundamental discoveries in research and in technical implementation.
But platinum posed a tremendous challenge for goldsmiths. It was hard to process because of its toughness and its high melting point of 1,769 degrees Celsius. Until a melting process was developed, platinum was forged in a white-hot state – an art that in the mid-19th century was only understood in London and Paris. Thanks to a technological breakthrough, Wilhelm Carl Heraeus changed this situation from the ground up in 1856. After extensive attempts, he had succeeded in melting two kilograms of platinum in an oxyhydrogen gas flame. The "First German Platinum Melting House" W. C. Heraeus was born. And success was not too far off. The young entrepreneur's customers soon included goldsmith shops and jewelry factories around the world, as well as dental factories, chemical laboratories and companies in numerous other industrial sectors.
But the primary emphasis initially was on platinum. Due to its chemical and physical characteristics, new applications for the metal were constantly found, and W. C. Heraeus eagerly explored them. In addition to jewelry production, platinum was also used for crucibles, plates, and small scientific apparatus for chemistry and physics because of its resistance to acids and its high temperature stability. Artificial teeth were anchored with pins made of platinum, and both filaments in incandescent bulbs and non-corrosive electrical contacts in telephones were made of platinum. Wilhelm Carl Heraeus' sons, Dr. Wilhelm Heraeus and Heinrich Heraeus, inherited their father's business in 1889. Steady growth meant that the young company soon had to move to larger quarters. In 1896, the platinum melting house relocated to new facilities outside of the town of Hanau together with 40 employees. At that time, around 1,000 kilograms of platinum were melted and processed per year.
The Heraeus platinum melting house had become one of the most important undertakings of its kind. The first ceramic colors were produced and with its platinum products Heraeus became a supplier to the electrochemical and plastic industries. And there was no end in sight for the platinum demand. To the contrary, the actual boom in platinum processing did not really start until the beginning of the 20th century, when the chemical industry needed large quantities of platinum-rhodium catalysts for the production of nitric acid.
For example, Küch developed the first platinum thermoelements and platinum-rhodium heating coils for electric heat furnaces. In 1899, Küch discovered a process for obtaining high-purity and relatively bubble-free quartz glass from rock crystal by melting it using an oxyhydrogen blowpipe. Quartz glass is in high demand for many applications in industry and medicine due to its high temperature stability, its resistance towards aggressive chemicals, and its optical qualities. This created the basis for Heraeus Quarzglas GmbH that was founded in 1912.
At this time, the successful development of Heraeus Quarzglas was significantly marked by managing director Dr. Heinrich Mohn, among whose successes was specifically this application of isotropic homogeneous quartz glasses of highest purity in space research. He also invented a process by which high-quality synthetical quartz glass was produced out of silicon tetrachloride. Starting in the late 1960s, another sales market opened up for this latest invention with the advent of communications technology. The development work in quartz glass fiber technology for data transmission revolutionized the teleommunications industry.
The development of products for optical waveguides commenced in 1972. The first synthetic waveguide tubes were developed in 1986, and pilot production started in 1988. In 1992, production of synthetic quartz glass was set up at a facility in the town of Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt that has been continuously expanded ever since. In the production of equipment and optics for the semiconductor industry, too, Heraeus Quarzglas has established itself as a worldwide leading supplier. Today, Heraeus Quarzglas is one of the world's uncontested leaders in quartz glass technology in many areas of the communications and semiconductor industries.
The extremely favorable development of business was accompanied by numerous technological innovations in which the physicist Wilhelm Rohn played a leading role. Between 1923 and 1933, the company received a total of 84 German patents with 101 corresponding foreign patents. But because of the rising need for investments and the differences between the products and the customer structure of this undertaking and the rest of the business, Heraeus separated from the company and sold the majority of its stake to Siemens in 1933. In 1948, the remaining stakes were also sold.
Dr. Reinhard Heraeus was responsible for managing the business side of the company. Under his leadership, Heraeus finally developed into a multiproduct company with a revenues volume that could easily stand up to international comparison. The development of high-vacuum evaporation technologies started in 1930, and the first dental alloys were produced in 1934. But there were problems, too. Due to World War I, inflation, and the collapse of the supply markets for precious metals in Russia, platinum prices were subject to enormous fluctuations. At that time, all of the research activities at Heraeus were focused on finding recycling techniques and suitable materials to replace precious metals. Notwithstanding these external obstacles, the company grew steadily until World War II broke out. In 1939, 1,000 people worked for the company; its annual revenues had reached 20 million German marks. This development came to an abrupt end when the war started. Many employees were drafted into the military, and production was predominantly concentrated on products such as electrical contacts constructed with as little precious metal as possible, catalysts, and large rhodium mirrors. Finally, in bomb attacks in 1944 and 1945, the production facilities in Hanau were all but leveled to the ground.
Beginning in the 1950s, vacuum metallurgy took several giant steps forward with the development of light arc and electron ray furnaces. These furnaces were used to produce special metals like titanium and zirconium for the construction of airplanes or for nuclear engineering. The increasing independence of this activity led to the founding of Heraeus Hochvakuum GmbH in 1966. As of 1967, the company joined the vacuum pump manufacturer Leybold, of Cologne, under the name Leybold-Heraeus GmbH with stakes held by Heraeus, Degussa and Metallgesellschaft. Its product line ranged from vacuum pumps and measuring equipment to components for vacuum technology and electrical, chemical, and metal lurgical process technology. Vacuum coating technology soon became a special focus. This company was instrumental in developing many of the processes that make common products we take for granted today possible in the first place, and it also developed these processes to industrial maturity. When Metallgesellschaft withdrew from the group of stakeholders of Leybold Heraeus GmbH in 1987, Heraeus decided to undertake a strategic review of these activities and as a consequence sold its entire stake in the company to Degussa AG.
After World War II, too, under the management of Dr. Konrad Ruthardt, new business opportunities were continuously tapped for all precious metals. As an example, beginning in 1950, contact rivets and springs were in high demand and enjoyed high sales since Siemens had developed rotary switches and rapid contacts using precious metals. This had laid the foundation for W. C. Heraeus to enter the promising markets of telecommunications, microelectronics, and computer technology, sectors that could not be imagined without the company's precious metals products. In the last few decades, Heraeus Metallhandelsgesellschaft became one of the world's largest industrial precious metals traders. When the new precious metal separation facility started operation in Hanau in 1976, W. C. Heraeus expanded its leading market position in precious metals recycling. Another major step forward was the acquisition of the U.S.-based PGP Industries in 2000 to form Heraeus Metals Processing.
In the post-war period, the company was able to successfully pick up where it left off. By the early fifties, Wilhelm Heinrich Heraeus had already managed to resume relations with the Engelhard company, which had been interrupted during the war, and tapped a receptive market for optical quartz glass in the U.S.A. for Heraeus. Beginning in 1958, the first foreign sales companies were established in France and Italy, and in 1972 foreign subsidiaries and associated companies were founded in the U.S.A., Great Britain, and Japan. Other international involvements and the opening of quartz glass facilities in Japan and the U.S.A. followed. The construction of production facilities for fine bonding wires made of extremely pure gold for semiconductor components – initially in Korea and later in the Philippines – underscored the company's development into a globally active technology group. Today, every division of the company is represented with production facilities and sales offices in the important industrial regions of the world.
In 1970, five years after Dr. Wilhelm Heinrich Heraeus, Dr. Reinhard Heraeus resigned from the Board of Management and assumed the chairmanship of the Supervisory Board. Dr. Helmut Gruber, a noted physician in the area of metallurgy, assumed responsibility for the Board of Management as well as for technology throughout the Group. Dr. Gruber was instrumental in promoting the company's activities in quartz glass, in precious metal chemistry, and in special metals. This included the establishment of subsidiaries outside of Germany and the acquisition of companies and stakes in Japan and the U.S.A. Dr. Jürgen Heraeus, the son of Dr. Reinhard Heraeus, became a member of the Board of Management in 1970.
Dr. Jürgen Heraeus not only brought modern management structures to the company, he also led it from internationalization to globalization. Above all in the Asian economic region, the activities were successfully expanded and strategic positions occupied early on. The Group's revenues and operating result soon reached the scope of a truly worldwide group of companies. The rapid recognition of trends and the quick realization of market opportunities, for example through the acquisition of Heraeus Electro-Nite, are accomplishments that can be credited to Dr. Jürgen Heraeus. In January 2000, Dr. Jürgen Heraeus assumed the chairmanship of the Supervisory Board of Heraeus Holding. Dr. Horst Heidsieck was appointed the new Chairman of the Board of Management. Dr. Dieter Truxius became a member of the Board as Chief Financial Officer. Dr. Klaus Goffloo continued to be on the Board as Chief Operating Officer.
In 2001, in its 150th year, the Heraeus Group was able to look back with gratification on a successful tradition full of groundbreaking inventions. At the same time, the foundations for future innovative business activities were laid. The further strengthening of business outside of Germany of the globally active group of companies was a key priority – 74 percent of product revenues in 2001 were earned abroad. Besides, core business activities were more strategically focussed in order to make better use of technologically sensible synergy potential of the managing companies. This also included the setting up of Heraeus Noblelight as an independent managing company in early 2001 and the sale of Heraeus Med in the beginning of 2002. The following core business areas emerged: precious metals, dental health, sensors, quartz glass and specialty lighting sources.
While in 2001 the shares in Kendro Laboratory Products were completely sold, the Heraeus Group was particularly active in 2002 in the precious metals business segment: W. C. Heraeus enlarged the thin film materials business through the acquisition of Unaxis Materials Deutschland GmbH, extended its bonding wire activities in China, and founded a joint venture for precious metals chemicals in South Africa, which became a 100% subsidiary in the next year after the withdrawal of the other shareholders.
In late January 2003, Dr. Horst Heidsieck and Dr. Klaus Goffloo left the company. Dr. Frank Heinricht succeeded Dr. Klaus Goffloo as the new Chief Operating and Technology Officer. On September 1, 2003, Dr. Helmut Eschwey joined Heraeus Holding as the new Chairman of the Board of Management. Since then, the Heraeus Group is managed by Dr. Helmut Eschwey, Dr. Frank Heinricht and Dr. Dieter Truxius. Despite a difficult economic climate and comprehensive consolidation efforts, the Heraeus Group continued to invest in research and development. Through the acquisition of the Swiss Metalor Medical Division, W. C. Heraeus was able to expand its activities in medical technology by focusing on advanced materials and also to realign the business. On August 1, 2007, Mr. Jan Rinnert, former Managing Director of Heraeus Kulzer GmbH, became a member of the Board of Management succeeding Dr. Dieter Truxius as Chief Financial Officer.