Germany’s Henkel Group is behind some of the world’s most famous brands, including Persil, Loctite, Fa, and Purex. Today, the legendary brand is leading new innovations in sustainability and white biotechnology. 

The History of the Henkel Group

Founded in Aachen in 1876, the Henkel Group was first known for laundry detergent. Founder Friedrich Karl Henkel experimented with new forms of washing detergents, using silicates to clean fabrics more effectively. In 1878, the growing company relocated to Dusseldorf for better access to transport and manufacturing facilities, and Henkel launched the first bleaching soda, a detergent that combined sodium silicate and soda.

In 1907, Henkel introduced Persil, a detergent based on sodium perborate and sodium silicate. It was the first consumer laundry detergent that combined bleach and detergent, rendering sun-bleaching unnecessary, and it remains one of the leading brands of laundry detergent to this day.    

In 1912, Henkel’s company had grown to employ over a thousand employees, half of whom were female. Henkel’s factory provided a first aid center with a full-time nurse, and had ball fields and play areas to encourage exercise. Employees could attend an in-house housekeeping school during breaks and lunches. 

In 1923, the occupation of the Rhineland made it difficult to source the adhesives needed for packaging of Persil and other Henkel products, so the company began making their own. 

In 1930, Friedrich died of a serious illness, and the company was taken over by his youngest son Hugo Henkel. The company has remained family-owned for five generations. The current chairman of Henkel’s Supervisory Board and of the Shareholder’s Committee is Simone Bagel-Trah, the great-great-granddaughter of Friedrich Henkel. 

In 1954, a Henkel subsidiary would launch Fa soap, and in 1969 the company began selling Pritt, the world’s first glue stick. 

Recent decades have seen the Henkel Group make many important acquisitions, including cosmetics company Schwarzkopf in 1995, the Loctite Corporation in 1997, and the Dial Corporation in 2004. 

Persil Gel Production Düsseldorf

The Henkel Group and White Biotechnology

White biotechnology is the use of living cells from microorganisms, yeasts, and plants to create enzymes on an industrial scale. These enzymes are biodegradable and can be produced with less energy and waste than traditional manufacturing. The first technologically engineered enzyme, designed to break down fat and render detergents more effective, was introduced in 1988. Henkel was one of the first companies to use such enzymes in the Persil product line and remains committed to using these technologies. According to their position statement, Henkel will use white biotechnology when it delivers:

  • An environmental gain
  • Added benefits for consumers
  • Economic advantages for Henkel

Henkel also conforms to the core values and ethical principles of EuropaBio, and works with expert biotech raw material manufacturers to innovate new products. 

Sustainability Initiatives at The Henkel Group

Henkel published its first Environment Report in 1992, and in 1995 was a founding member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Henkel’s sustainability initiatives include responsible sourcing, sustainable packaging, and climate positive initiatives, as well as an ongoing commitment to good corporate citizenship around the world. Since 1998, Henkel employees and retirees have been involved in more than 12,800 citizenship projects in more than 50 countries around the world. 

For nearly 150 years, the Henkel Group has been a pioneer in detergents, adhesives, and beauty care products. As they work toward a safer, more sustainable future, they are certain to be a leader for centuries to come.

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