Editor's note: Kraton Polymers, formerly Shell Chemical, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week.
The beginnings of Kraton Polymers in Belpre goes back to World War II when Shell was an integral part of the war effort and the Arsenal of Democracy.
Shell and the U.S. government produced a synthetic rubber, said Mike White, a spokesman for the Kraton Belpre Plant, today the world's largest production facility of styrenic block copolymers.
"It was during World War II that Shell Chemical, in a joint venture with the government and two other chemical companies, entered the synthetic rubber business to help supply tires for combat vehicles," White said.
In 1955, Shell purchased a plant in Torrance, Calif., that made the synthetic rubber and ventured into the then-emerging synthetic rubber business. The plant originally produced polyisoprene and polybutadiene rubber and in 1961, the world's first thermoplastic rubber was patented by Shell. These "styrenic block copolymers" later took the name of Kraton thermoplastic rubber.
To meet needs for higher capacity, production was moved to the Belpre manufacturing location that was constructed in 1961 and initially focused on production of polyisoprene rubber and latex.
At a glance
- The Belpre plant was opened in 1961 as Shell on land purchased in 1959 from the Houser family, direct descendants of Revolutionary War Gen. Israel Putnam.
- Since its opening, the plant has gone from 129 employees to more than 600 and expanded production units from one unit to five.
Initial employment at the facility was 129 employees with one production unit. Since it opened, the Belpre plant has been expanded, upgraded and modernized to meet increasing demands and now employs more than 600 employees and contractors at five production units.
"The Belpre Plant property is rich in history" said White. "It was purchased in 1959 from the Houser family, direct descendants of Gen. Israel Putnam, a hero of the American Revolution."
Col. Israel Putnam, Putnam's son, was a founder of Belpre. Col. Putnam and two of his sons, who arrived in Marietta 1788 with the Ohio Company, along with other settlers in 1789 moved south of Marietta where they called their settlement "Belle Prairie" or "beautiful meadow."
The Houser residence was donated by the Belpre Plant and moved to Blennerhassett Island State Park in 1986 where it has been restored and is now an area tourist attraction.
In 1972, significant modifications to the process led to the production of the new Kraton thermoplastic rubber, first with the styrene-butadiene-styrene block copolymers and later the styrene-ethylene/butylene-styrene block copolymers
An explosion that killed three workers on May 27, 1994, has spawned more than $12 million in safety improvements, plant Manager Mark Gaddy said.
''Today, safety remains a core value, and Kraton's investments at the plant continue to demonstrate this commitment not only to the safety of our employees, contractors and this community, but a strong vote of confidence in our future," Gaddy said.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shell sold many non-core businesses to focus on oil exploration, refining and commodity chemical products. As part of the divestiture, Shell sold its elastomers business to Ripplewood Holdings in March 2001, which included the Belpre Plant, naming it Kraton Polymers.
In December 2003, Texas Pacific Group and J.P. Morgan Partners acquired Kraton Polymers from Ripplewood. In April 2011, Texas Pacific Group and J.P. Morgan Partners sold the remainder of their stake in Kraton.
"We no longer supply material to Akron to put into tires; today the Kraton Belpre plant supplies the world with a variety of products that is unmatched by any competitor," said Gaddy. Kraton has a broad product portfolio of polymers used in a wide variety of applications including consumer and personal care items, adhesives and coatings, electronics, medical supplies, automotive components and paving and roofing materials.
Many of the world's top Fortune 500 companies work with Kraton Polymers. Kraton offers 800 products to more than 700 customers in 60 countries and its intellectual product portfolio includes 1,400 patents issued or pending.