The Next Big Thing

Having lost half of its engineers, surviving on a slim diet of engineering projects and with few prospects, UOP recruited the affable president of the Arkansas Natural Gas Corporation David W. Harris to run the company. Harris proved to be an exceptional diplomat, holding plaintiffs at bay while negotiating a handful of new deals to keep the company afloat.

These few years were critical because, in 1947 a protégé of Ipatieff named Vladimir Haensel perfected a revolutionary new method of catalysis that used platinum as a reforming agent. The use of a metal more precious than gold to break down crude oil was thought to be economically impossible. But the method, called the Platforming™ process, greatly multiplied the yields of high-octane gasoline from crude oil while producing hydrogen for purifying — or “hydrotreating” — refinery feedstocks. This invention became the world’s leading process for making gasoline and it gave UOP a new and highly profitable process to replenish its licensing income.

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This and other UOP technologies helped to launch the petrochemicals industry during the 1950s. In addition to making fuels, refineries could now turn out new compounds of benzene, toluene and mixed xylenes that provided the building blocks for nylon, polyester, styrene and other plastics.

These products had numerous industrial uses as films, packaging and construction materials, in precision instruments and life-saving medical applications, as well as house wares and toys. Petrochemical technologies developed by or in conjunction with UOP gave birth to new manufacturing industries that employed millions more people, fueling an economic expansion that transformed entire nations into export-led economies.

In fact, dozens of new countries gained independence in the postwar period – among them, India, Indonesia, The Philippines, South Korea, and many more in Africa and the Middle East. With independence came the need to develop domestic sources of fuel and power as well as manufacturing.

Already a world traveler, UOP added many new destinations to its collective passport. UOP relocated its headquarters to Des Plaines, Ill. in 1952 to gain closer proximity to the new airport, O’Hare Field, which was then under construction. UOP also entered manufacturing, establishing its first facility in Shreveport, La.

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