As the 20th Century approached, the United States began to challenge the nations of Europe as the most powerful industrial country on earth. The trusts of millionaire magnates -- Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan -- dominated that Gilded Age in the 1890s, but many small businesses also took root in the fertile soil of an expanding economy.
Two of those fledgling companies were Olin Industries and Mathieson Chemical Corporation. Each was founded in 1892 in separate parts of the country by entrepreneurs who never knew one another. And each laid part of the foundation of today's Olin Corporation, a leading North American producer of chlorine and caustic soda, and ammunition.
Origin of Olin Industries
Franklin W. Olin
The Western Cartridge Company
In 1892, Franklin W. Olin, a Vermont-born engineer who was educated at Cornell University, founded the Equitable Powder Company in East Alton, Illinois. A predecessor of Olin Industries, Equitable Powder supplied blasting powder to midwestern coal fields. The powder company soon expanded into small arms ammunition, and the Western Cartridge Company was formed in 1898.
During the First World War, Western built a brass mill to supply the great demand for brass for military cartridges. When the war ended, Western turned to "tailor-made" brass and other copper alloys to absorb excess production capacity. Olin Brass continues to produce a wide range of copper and copper-based alloy sheet, strip, tube and fabricated products.
In 1931, Western completed its integration into small arms and ammunition with its purchase of the legendary Winchester Repeating Arms Co., which had been founded in New Haven, CT, in 1866. Winchester also greatly expanded production during World War I, but to absorb the excess capacity and pay down debt it made a disastrous foray into manufacturing and selling hardware goods, from roller skates and refrigerators to batteries. This failed experiment eventually drove Winchester into receivership and led to its sale to the Olins and Western Cartridge in 1931. The Olins quickly ended Winchester's foray into the hardware field, paring it down to its core competencies in arms and ammunition.
Winchester-Western made major contributions to Allied Forces in World War II by manufacturing 15 billion rounds of ammunition and also developing the U.S. carbine and M-1 rifle. By the end of the war, Winchester-Western employed 62,000 people, including those at plants operated for the government.
The Mathieson Side of the Olin Enterprise
The Mathieson Alkali Works in Saltville, VA
Mathieson Chemical Corporation had charted an equally impressive path to success since its founding in 1892. At that time, seven U.S. businessmen formed the Mathieson Alkali Works of Saltville, VA, where they built a plant to produce soda ash from local deposits of salt, coal and limestone. Working with them on the plant's design was a young British engineer, Thomas Mathieson. His father, Neil Mathieson, an English chemical manufacturer, sold the U.S. group the rights to a process to produce alkalis in the U.S.
On July 4, 1895, Mathieson shipped its first soda ash from Saltville to eastern U.S. glass, textile and paper industries. A year later, the company began producing the nation's first commercially available bleaching powder, a chlorine product derived by the electrolysis of salt brine. On Thanksgiving Day in 1897, Mathieson started up a plant at Niagara Falls, NY, to produce chlor-alkali products. That initial plant, just like Olin's current operations in Niagara Falls, benefited from the Falls' low-cost hydroelectric power. Mathieson's growing expertise in chlor-alkali products eventually led to such products as today's HTH swimming pool and spa sanitizer, one of the leading brands of calcium hypochlorite pool sanitizers in the world.
In 1909, Mathieson began the first commercial production of liquefied chlorine, and in 1923 it built one of the first synthetic ammonia plants. During World War II, chlorine and other alkali chemicals were used for water purification and sanitation of military medical equipment in the field. In 1949, Mathieson began a strategy of expansion into industrial and agricultural chemicals when it became a producer of sulfuric acid, fertilizers and pesticides. In 1950 it built a plant in Brandenburg, KY, to process natural gas into organic chemicals. Also, it added a plant in McIntosh, AL, for chlorine and caustic soda.
Mathieson continued its expansion with its acquisition in 1952 of the pharmaceutical firm E.R. Squibb & Sons. This acquisition was not as far afield as one might think, for the production of medicines requires much the same exacting skills as the production of specialty chemicals. Moreover, chlorine is a vital precursor chemical in 85% of all pharmaceutical products. Squibb also provided Mathieson with a complete international sales organization and overseas production plants, expertise that was vital to growing Mathieson's international presence. Squibb remained a part of the Olin empire until it was spun off in 1968 as a separate company.
Olin Industries' Post-War Expansion
The various Olin businesses were brought together in 1944 under the new corporate name of Olin Industries, Inc. With the retirement of founder Franklin Olin from active management, his sons John and Spencer went on to guide the company through a remarkable period of expansion. Olin's core products and technologies remained metals and ammunition, but it periodically expanded into related businesses. For example, based on its 50 years of experience in cellulose-based products such as explosives, Olin in 1949 entered the cellophane business. In a related move into cellulose products, Olin in 1951 acquired the properties of Frost Lumber Industries of Louisiana and Arkansas, including 440,000 acres of timberlands. Olin around this time also acquired Ecusta Paper Corporation in Pisgah Forest, NC, a leading producer of fine papers for everything from cigarettes to the Bible.
In 1952, Olin's interest in powder technology led it to purchase Ramset Fasteners, a producer of powder-actuated building tools (such as nail guns) and fastening systems. As a result of these and other initiatives, Olin Industries in the early 1950s was comprised of businesses in brass and other non-ferrous alloys, arms and ammunition, explosives, cellophane, fine papers, construction fastening systems and forest products.
A Powerful 'Marriage': Olin and Mathieson Merge
By 1954, Olin Industries and Mathieson Chemical had reached equal size ($250 million in annual sales) and each had established a solid record of profitability. The companies merged in August 1954 to form Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, moving its corporate headquarters in 1955 to New York City. Taking a cue from its two parent companies, the combined Olin Mathieson continued during the 1950s and 1960s to build on its core technologies and products - now chemicals, metals and ammunition. In 1955, for example, Olin Mathieson entered the field of industrial phosphates with its acquisition of the Blockson Chemical Company in Joliet, IL.
Post-War Prosperity Fuels Rapid Expansion
Also in 1955, Olin purchased the Brown Paper Mill Company of West Monroe, LA, a producer of paper bags and corrugated containers. The acquisition was blended with the Frost Lumber acquisition in 1952 to form the Forest Products Division, later called Olinkraft. In 1956, Olin entered the aluminum business, building on its existing base in non-ferrous metals. A joint venture, Ormet Corporation, owned an aluminum plant in Louisiana and a primary aluminum smelter in Ohio. At one point, Olin even owned a bauxite mine in Africa, using this vital raw material in the production of aluminum.
In 1962, Olin built a new plant in Charleston, Tenn., for the production of chlorine and caustic soda and HTH swimming pool sanitizers.
In the 1960s, Olin entered the urethane chemicals business and began manufacturing polyols at its complex in Brandenburg, KY. Olin first made toluene diisocyanate (TDI) at a plant in Ashtabula, OH, and later at Lake Charles, LA. TDI is used to manufacture polyurethane foams, which in turn are used in furniture cushioning, automotive seats and carpet padding. In 1962, Olin built a new plant in Charleston, TN., for the production of chlorine and caustic soda and HTH® swimming pool sanitizers. Later, the plant added a facility for making sodium hydrosulfite, which "helps put the blue in blue jeans" as an agent that aids the dyeing of denim and other fabrics.
The 1960s also saw an expansion into leisure products - a foray into camping equipment by Winchester® and the creation of Olin Skis, which are still being made today by K2 skis under a license arrangement with Olin. In 1969, as an extension of its interests in the forest products field, Olin entered the home-building industry and forged several companies into Olin-American, Inc., which built houses in California, Arizona, Virginia and Maryland. In 1969, Olin also completed moving its corporate and chemicals headquarters to a new 60-acre campus in Stamford, CT. (This headquarters site was sold in 1995 to GE Capital, when Olin moved its headquarters to leased space in the Merritt 7 complex in Norwalk, CT.) Finally, in 1969, Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation simplified its name to Olin Corporation after an advertising campaign urged everyone "to call us by our first name."
A Period of Consolidation...
After this prolonged period of expansion, Olin during the 1970s began a period of consolidation that has continued to this very day. The consolidation was driven by changing business conditions and the realization that the company's resources and expertise were being stretched too far afield from its core competencies in chemicals, metals and ammunition. In 1974, for example, Olin spun off its forest products subsidiary, Olinkraft, and sold its aluminum business as well. By 1984, Olin had sold the last of its housing companies. In 1981, Winchester sold its shotgun and rifle manufacturing operations in New Haven, CT, to U.S. Repeating Arms Corporation. Winchester rifles and shotguns are still manufactured today under a licensing agreement, while Winchester makes sporting ammunition at its major plant in East Alton, IL, Oxford, MS and at a smaller shotshell plant in Geelong, Australia.
Olin in 1985 sold its Ecusta Paper and Olin cellophane businesses, followed in 1986 by the divestiture of Ramset Fasteners. The company also exited the camping and ski businesses, selling them to competitors focused exclusively on those challenging markets.
...Followed by Yet Another Expansion
In the late '80s and early '90s, Olin Brass further strengthened its strategic position with multiple acquisitions
Olin has served the aerospace industry with rocket engines, propellants and sophisticated electronic products.
During the mid-1980s, flush with the proceeds from its various divestments and with an eye on the future, Olin made some selective acquisitions in what it then called "thrust areas," particularly in electronic materials and the ordnance and aerospace industries. In 1984, for example, the company purchased the Philip A. Hunt Chemical Corporation, which brought Olin into the electronic chemicals industry. Olin Brass was already a supplier of high performance copper alloys to that business, and the global boom in sophisticated electronic products (including the first personal computers in 1981) offered the promise of rapid sales growth.
In 1985, Olin entered the aerospace industry (which we had already been serving with hydrazine propellants) by acquiring Rockcor, Inc., of Redmond, WA. Among other products, its business units manufactured rocket engines for satellites and the Space Shuttle along with sophisticated electronic products for both commercial airliners and military aircraft. In a related move, Olin expanded its role in ordnance products (military ammunition) in 1988 with its acquisition of General Defense Corporation. Olin was already a major producer of medium caliber ammunition and of small caliber ammunition, and General Defense gave it capabilities in the manufacture of large caliber ammunition for tanks.
Despite its forays into diverse markets and industries, Olin did not neglect over the years to strengthen its core businesses in chemicals, metals and ammunition. For example, Olin Brass in 1967 acquired Somers Thin Strip in Waterbury, CT, a company that takes various metals, including brass created by our mill in East Alton, IL, and transforms them into everything from the metallic hubs in the center of computer disks to metals for ballpoint pens. In 1988, Olin Brass purchased Bridgeport Brass, whose mill was located in Indianapolis, Ind., greatly expanding Olin Brass's capacity in the U.S. And to capitalize on rapidly growing markets in Asia, Olin Brass teamed up with Yamaha in the late 1980s to form Yamaha-Olin Metals, a joint venture in Japan that creates high performance copper alloys for use by the Asian electronics industry.
In 1991, Olin Brass further strengthened its strategic position with the acquisition of A.J. Oster, a network of seven metals service centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Oster warehouses, cuts, finishes and distributes brass, stainless steel and other metals for small and mid-sized customers throughout North America -- a vital, value-added service that gives Olin Brass another way of excelling at satisfying customer expectations.
During the late 1980s, Olin reached an historic high of $3.01 in earnings per share (readjusted to reflect the two-for-one stock split that occurred in 1996). The company also notched an 18% Return on Equity (ROE), reaching a goal that then Olin Chairman John W. Johnstone, Jr. had set during the mid-1980s.
Paring Down to Core Strengths
The sense of celebration was relatively short-lived, however, because the recession that began the decade of the 1990s had a severe impact on Olin's earnings. The recessionary environment, coupled with fierce and growing foreign competition, revealed that Olin was spread too thinly across too many businesses and product lines. From 1991 through 1995, Olin sold or shut down 18 under-performing and non-strategic businesses and product lines. These actions generated $180 million in net proceeds, but the benefits of our streamlining program were largely obscured by the lingering recessionary environment.
In 1995, the company began assembling a new leadership team after then-Chairman John Johnstone announced his impending retirement. (He was replaced as Chairman, President and CEO by Donald W. Griffin.) Two things were immediately clear: First, that despite our efforts to streamline the company, we still needed greater focus. Second, we needed a more comprehensive way of measuring and motivating the performance of Olin's diverse businesses.
Raising the Performance Bar
As a result, Olin turned to the Economic Value Added methodology, known more familiarly as EVA®, a powerful business and financial management tool that measures whether one's businesses are generating returns that meet or exceed their total cost of capital. After adopting EVA, we intensively reviewed our businesses, their prospects and the likelihood that they could generate positive EVA over the course of the business cycle. We also worked closely with investment bankers, Wall Street analysts and others to glean their best ideas about how Olin could accelerate our quest to consistently create superior shareholder value. In October of 1996, Olin announced a series of strategic initiatives that were designed to create a stronger, more focused and more valuable company. To begin with, Olin spun off to shareholders our former Ordnance and Aerospace divisions as Primex Technologies, Inc.
We also announced the sale of our TDI and ADI isocyanates businesses to Arco Chemical for $565 million in cash. While Olin was a leading producer of TDI in North America, we neither had a presence in important complementary products such as MDI, nor a strong propylene oxide position for flexible polyols. We also sold our surfactants businesses at our chemicals' complex in Brandenburg, KY. to BASF and Pilot Chemical Company.
Olin's joint venture "sunbelt" facility in McIntosh, Alabama.
Olin used the proceeds from the TDI sale and other divestments to repurchase Olin common stock, to pay down debt, and to purchase DuPont's 50% share in Niachlor -- a joint venture chlor alkali plant in Niagara Falls, NY. The company also invested in a new chlor alkali plant in McIntosh, Alabama. The new Sunbelt plant was built for $200 million as a joint venture between Olin and PolyOne (formerly Geon), a major Olin customer in the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) market. OxyVynls takes 100% of the plant's chlorine for its use in making PVC resins, while Olin in turn markets the plant's high-purity caustic soda.
A Tale of Two Companies
Olin's former microelectronic chemicals business is one of the flagship businesses within Arch Chemicals, Inc.
Once these strategic actions were completed, Olin had what amounted to two different sets of businesses with entirely different dynamics. On the one hand, the company's specialty chemicals businesses were driven by the need to supply customers with tailored chemicals and technology and a high level of technical customer support. On the other hand, Olin's more traditional basic materials businesses competed more on price and sold into more mature, slower growth markets.
In mid-1998, Olin announced that it would spin off its specialty chemical businesses as a separate, publicly traded company. The purpose of the spin off was to free each of the new companies – Olin and the spun off company – to focus exclusively on growing its own businesses and competitive advantages. On February 8, 1999, Olin spun off its specialty chemical businesses as Arch Chemicals, Inc.
In 1999, the U.S. Mint announced its selection of a unique clad coinage metal developed by Olin Corporation’s Brass Division in East Alton for the production of a new gold-colored dollar coin with distribution of this new “Golden Dollar” beginning in 2000. Although the new material was distinguishable from other coins due to its gold color, it also allowed for acceptance by vending machines and transit bus and train equipment designed to accept the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.
In mid-1999, Olin’s Winchester Division lost its bid to continue as the contract operator of the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, a responsibility proudly served since 1986. Winchester continued to operate the facility through the end of 1999.
In April 2001, Olin Corporation celebrated its 50th anniversary as the contract operator of the government-owned Badger Army Ammunition Plant in Baraboo, WI. The huge complex, which was initially built to support the Allied effort during World War II, went on to supply cannon, rocket mortar and small arms propellants to U.S. Armed Forces through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and beyond. Although the government decided in 1997 that the Badger plant should close and be prepared for alternative uses, Olin’s Winchester Division continued to work under the direction of the U.S. Army’s Operations Support Command and prepare the plant for disposition by dismantling equipment, carrying out approved environmental clean-up plans, and maintaining buildings and grounds on the 7,300 acre site.
In June 2001, Olin acquired the stock of Monarch Brass & Copper Corporation.Prior to this acquisition, Monarch was a privately held, specialty brass manufacturer headquartered in Waterbury, CT.Monarch enhanced Olin’s high performance copper alloy production capabilities and expanded its product portfolio.
In September 2002, Olin issued approximately 9.8 million Olin common shares to acquire Chase Industries, Inc., a profitable debt-free company and leading manufacturer and supplier of brass rod in the U.S. and Canada.
Because of Winchester’s continuous strengthening of ammunition offers and innovative new rounds tailored for specialized needs, it received, in 2002, the “Ammunition of the Year” award. This award, a noteworthy industry recognition from the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence, marked the fifth consecutive year Winchester received such high honors. In addition, Winchester was named the “Manufacturer of the Year” by the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers.
Olin’s Indianapolis operation closed during the first quarter of 2003. The closure resulted in a transfer of copper and copper alloy sheet and strip production capabilities to Olin’s East Alton, IL facility. In addition, the Metals research and development functions were relocated into other existing Olin operations.
In 2002, Olin entered into an agreement with Luoyang Copper to jointly construct and operate a metals distribution center in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China. The joint venture, named Olin Luotong Metals (GZ) Ltd., Co., processes and distributes both Olin and Luoyang's copper alloy products to the Chinese marketplace. The joint venture was completed in 2003.
In early 2004, Olin announced that its Board of Directors approved plans to move the corporate headquarters to Clayton, MO, nearer its largest manufacturing facility in East Alton, IL. The decision to relocate was driven by the organizational, strategic and economic advantages to locating Olin's corporate headquarters nearer to East Alton, and part of Olin's continuing efforts to improve its competitive position and financial performance. The relocation of corporate headquarters resulted in a downsized corporate structure and was completed by the end of 2004.
Olin Corporation announced in June 2004 an agreement to sell its Olin Aegis business to HCC Industries Inc., the largest U.S. based manufacturer of glass-to-metal sealed interconnect products. Since the spin of Arch Chemicals, Olin Aegis, headquartered in New Bedford, MA, had operated as part of the Metals segment and manufactured high performance, high reliability, hermetic metal packages for the microelectronics industry. Olin divested this business because of its more strategic fit with HCC Industries.
Also in 2004, Olin Corporation’s Winchester Division announced a decision to relocate its East Alton, IL rimfire manufacturing operation to Oxford, MS. This decision, based on Winchester’s desire to continue to offer a complete line of ammunition products, allowed it the ability to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, better utilize existing technology and achieve improved profitability in the product line. The relocation was completed in 2005.
The move of Olin corporate offices to Clayton, MO was completed in early January of 2005. In August 2005, Olin’s Winchester Division, as part of a team of small caliber ammunition manufacturers, and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announced receipt of an initial award under a five-year contract of $171 million to supply small-caliber ammunition to the U.S. Armed Forces, issued by the U.S. Army Field Support Command. This award culminated an 18-month effort by Winchester and the General Dynamics team to secure this contract, acting as a second source of small caliber ammunition for the U.S. military.
In early 2006, Olin Corporation announced the decision to close its Waterbury Rolling Mills facility due to a continuing depressed demand for its phosphor-bronze product line. As a result of the closure, production capabilities at Waterbury Rolling Mills were consolidated into Olin’s Brass Division location in East Alton, IL.
Olin completed the closure of the New Haven Copper Company, a previous Monarch Brass & Copper Corporation facility, in early 2007. This facility, located in Seymour, CT, served as a small-scale re-roll mill concentrating on processing copper strip for cable tape, electrical connectors and transformer windings. A reduced industry demand for copper and copper-alloy strip products along with unprecedented raw material cost escalations lessened the need to maintain this production base.
Also in early 2007, the U.S. Mint began unveiling a new Presidential Dollar Coin across the United States. Olin’s Brass Division played an instrumental part in the success of the new program. These new coins continue to utilize the same unique alloy developed by Olin in 1999 and used in the Sacagawea Golden Dollar.
In August 2007, Pioneer Companies, Inc., a leading producer of chlorine, caustic soda, bleach, hydrochloric acid and related products, merged into Olin, making Olin the third largest producer in the chlor alkali business and the leading producer of industrial bleach in North America. The combination of Olin's and Pioneer's businesses creates a Chlor Alkali producer with outstanding capabilities to serve the needs of customers across North America. Olin's ability to meaningfully add value through synergies and best practices will benefit our shareholders. The combined companies will have a more diversified geographic footprint, a complementary bleach and HCL product mix and a broader distribution network. The acquisition provides an improved platform from which to continue to grow our chemical business.
In October 2007, Olin Corporation announced that it signed a definitive agreement to sell its Metals business to a subsidiary of Global Brass and Copper Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of KPS Capital Partners, LP, for a purchase price of $400 million. The sale includes all of the company’s worldwide Metals operations, including its manufacturing facilities in East Alton, IL; Montpelier and Bryan, OH; Waterbury, CT and Cuba, MO, as well as its A.J. Oster metals service centers. The sale was completed on November 19, 2007.