It all started with one pioneer. Now there are over a thousand.

When Julius Rütgers was born on 11 July 1830, no one foresaw his future as one of Germany’s chief industrial pioneers. Encouraged by his father, a Prussian official of the Rhenish Railway, he founded a company in 1849 that specialized in treating wooden railway sleepers with oils from coal tar. It was so successful that it had expanded to an additional 77 facilities by the end of the century.

A man who made history

At first, Julius Rütgers imported the oils he needed from England. As tar oil imports grew more and more costly, the young entrepreneur set up Germany’s first major coal tar distillation facility in Erkner, outside Berlin. The village, which at the time comprised 591 inhabitants, 111 cattle and 61 houses, owes its status as one of the birthplaces of organic chemistry to a simple twist of fate: The construction of a new bridge on track 2 of the local train station forced Rütgers to make repeated unplanned stops there on his journeys between Berlin and Wroclaw.

By 1898, Julius Rütgers had started up eight more facilities. And since there were simply no workers skilled in the tasks required for this new field, the self-taught Rütgers was client, builder, equipment designer, mechanic and manager all rolled into one. He usually bought a lot and then plotted the location of the machinery and the layout of the tracks by drawing them in the sand with his walking stick.

The triumph of coal tar aromatics

The invention of artificial dyestuffs marked another chapter in Julius Rütgers’ success story. Their synthesis requires aniline, anthracene and naphthalene—all products that are derived from coal tar. Rütgers got in on the ground floor of this field and helped define the new industrial aromatic chemistry. The demand for RÜTGERS products grew tremendously, and with it the need for coal tar, a by-product that had been filled into barrels and dumped into the sea just a few decades previously. RÜTGERS established itself as a leading German chemicals company, at stages enjoying the number two spot in the market, and played a major role in making Germany the world’s leading manufacturer of dyestuffs.

After his illustrious career as a pioneer of statutory social insurance, promoter of science and research, chairman of the employers’ liability insurance association for the chemicals industry, and member of the “Reichsversicherungsamt” (the former German social insurance office), Julius Rütgers died on 6 September 1903. His legacy is a company that grew from humble beginnings as a wood treatment facility into a modern industrial corporation. And everyone at RÜTGERS today is charged with continuing this legacy and keeping Rütgers’ values alive.


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