The War Years and the Rise of Plastics and Petrochemicals

Dow’s Depression-Era Strategies Pay Off

During World War II, the research that Willard H. Dow invested in during the Depression resulted in handsome rewards. One of Dow’s first wartime contracts was with the British, who desperately needed magnesium. Dow produced some of this metal at its new plant in Freeport, Texas, which extracted magnesium from seawater. Dow’s production of magnesium became important in fabricating lightweight parts of aircraft. Wartime needs also accelerated the research and production of plastics.

After WWII, Dow had to adapt to the postwar economy. For example, STYROFOAM™ extruded polystyrene, developed as a floating device for the U.S. Coast Guard, was produced globally for thousands of uses, including energy-saving insulation. Dow’s product line was extensive and included chemicals used in almost every conceivable industry. Bulk chemicals accounted for 50 percent of sales and plastics accounted for 20 percent of sales, while magnesium, pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals each accounted for 10 percent of sales.

Read more about Dow’s innovation and growth under the leadership of Willard H. Dow.

1942 Dow’s first international expansion begins with Dow Chemical Canada, Ltd.
1943 Dow and Corning Glass form Dow Corning, a joint venture to create silicone products.
1947 Dow establishes Brazos Oil & Gas Co., a subsidiary that produces oil and gas for Dow’s needs and constructs pipelines to carry fuel and feedstock to plants.
1948 Plastics reach 20 percent of Dow’s total sales.
1952 Dow establishes Asahi-Dow, Ltd. in Japan, its first subsidiary outside North America.
1953 Dow introduces Saran Wrap® for household use.
1959 Dow Corning Corporation implements technology to manufacture hyperpure polycrystalline silicon to produce materials for computer chips, and the first fully integrated polycrystalline silicon plant is established in Hemlock, Michigan.

®Saran Wrap and logo are trademarks of S.C. Johnson and Son Inc.

Dow’s Growth Story

For over a century, Dow has been a company of innovation, growth and a leader in the industry. Follow the company’s timeline through each Generation of Innovation and Transformation.

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