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This article is about the consolidated history of the 1986 established Ecolab, Inc; including its foundation in 1923 as Economics Laboratory, and the acquisition of Nalco in 2011. For the history of acquired businesses of Nalco, see Nalco Holding Company.
Ecolab, Inc
Type Public
S&P 500 Component
Traded as NYSEECL
Industry Utilities, Hygiene Chemicals, Sanitary engineering, Pest control, Food safety
Founded 1923
Headquarters St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Key people Douglas M. Baker, Jr Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ecolab. Director of Ecolab since February 2004.
Products See products and services
Revenue Increase $ 11.8387 billion (2012)
Net income Increase $ 703.6 million (2012)
Owners Cascade Investment (12%)
Employees 44,000 ( 2012)
Website Ecolab Inc.

Ecolab, Inc. headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota is an American global provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to the food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets. It was originally founded as Economics Laboratory in 1923 by Merritt J. Osborn, and renamed to Ecolab in 1986.[1][2]


Early years : 1923 - 1950s[edit]

Merritt J. "M.J." Osborn was a traveling salesman early in his career. While staying at hotels, he saw that guest room carpets were sent out for cleaning. Cleaning could take a week or more – and, while the carpet was away, the hotel closed the room, foregoing revenues. Years later, at age 44 and with two sons about ready for college, M.J. was in desperate need of a new business idea. He set about developing a product to clean guest carpets in the rooms. By cleaning the carpet in place in the morning, the room would be ready for guests that evening. M.J. called his product Absorbit and, in 1923, he formed a company and called it Economics Laboratory. Its tagline: “Saving time, lightening labor and reducing costs to those we serve.”

Absorbit did not turn into the money-maker M.J. had hoped. But that didn’t stop him. He looked from the hotel room to the hotel kitchen, where electric dish machines were beginning to appear. M.J. foresaw human dishwashers being displaced by the machines. But at the time, there was a problem: The machines did a poor job of washing dishes, in large part because there were no effective dish machine soaps. M.J. saw the opportunity – and he worked to develop a better soap. The result was SOILAX. The earliest formulation of SOILAX may not have delivered perfect results. But it was the best option on the market. It was well received – and it provided the young company with more stable financial footing.

During the 1930s, it expanded throughout the United States; and the sales reached US$5.4 million by the end of 1940s. It acquired the Magnus Company in the early 1950s, which gave the company access to Magnus's industrial specialty businesses - including pulp and paper, metalworking, transportation, and petrochemical processing.[1]

Transition to a public corp. and expansion : 1950s - 1986[edit]

In the 1950s, international expansion of Economics Laboratory started, with the establishment of its first overseas subsidiary in Sweden in 1956. It became a publicly traded corporation in 1957,[1] and continued to expand during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1979, it acquired Apollo Technologies; but in 1983, the acquired Apollo subsidiary was shut down.

Ecolab Inc. : 1986 - present[edit]

In 1986, the company changed its name from Economics Laboratory to Ecolab Inc.

In 1987, Ecolab purchased the lawncare servicer provider, ChemLawn for US$376 million. It sold the acquisition in 1992 to Service Master, for US$103 million as it couldn't turn ChemLawn into a profitable business.[1] Ecolab and the German fast-moving consumer goods firm, Henkel KGaA formed a 50:50 European joint venture called 'Henkel-Ecolab' in mid-1991 to expand into European/Russian markets.[3]

Ecolab would continue to acquire companies in the 1990s, namely : Kay Chemical (1993); Australia-based Gibson Chemical Industries Ltd (1997) ; and GCS Service Inc (1998). In 2001, it bought out its partner Henkel's 50% stake in the European JV, Henkel-Ecolab. Subsequently Ecolab integrated the former Henkel-Ecolab into its existing global operations. As a legacy of the Henkel-Ecolab cooperation from 1991-2001, Henkel would continue to hold a 29.5% stake in Ecolab Inc after the sale of the joint venture.[3]

In the mid-2000s, strategic acquisitions continued; and Ecolab diversified its portfolio of customer offerings, by venturing into food safety management business as well as a healthcare business unit. In 2005, it opened a new global research, development and engineering center in Eagan, Minnesota.[4]

In 2008, Henkel sold all of the 73 million shares, i.e. nearly 29.5% stake it held in Ecolab, ending the two decade long partnership.[5][6][7] The same year, Ecolab established Zurich as its EMEA headquarters.[4]

In 2010, Ecolab was ranked #365 in Fortune 500 magazine, and in 2011, Ecolab was named one of the “World's Most Ethical Companies” by the Ethisphere Institute.[8]

In July 2011, Ecolab announced a merger with Nalco Holding Company, Inc.; and in December 2011, Nalco became a wholly owned subsidiary of Ecolab Inc., after it completed its US$5.4 billion acquisition.[GT-DEX 1][GT-DEX 2][GT-DEX 3][GT-DEX 4]

In May 2012, Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates through his investment vehicles - Cascade Investment and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; increased the current stake of 10.8% in Ecolab to 25%.[9][10][11]

In October 2012, Ecolab entered an agreement to acquire Champion Technologies.[12] That purchase closed in April 2013.[13]


Ecolab employs approximately 44,000 people, and operates in more than 170 countries. It is organized in the following geographical divisions:

  • Europe (based in Zurich, Switzerland )
  • Middle East, and Africa
  • Asia Pacific
  • Americas

Products and services[edit]

Ecolab provides water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to the food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets. [14][15]

Ecolab's food safety services, provide consulting to restaurants, hospitals, food retailers and food & beverage manufacturing facilities. It is also a supplier of chemical products used by beef and poultry processors - to reduce pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella - in uncooked beef and poultry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ecolab Agrees To Buy Nalco For $5.4 Billion To Add Water-Treatment Service". July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Ecolab Closes on Merger With Nalco". 9 December 2003. Retrieved December 2011. 
  3. ^ "Ecolab merger to build on Nalco’s legacy". December 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "SEC filing: NALCO Holding Company". December 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°56′46″N 93°5′40″W / 44.94611°N 93.09444°W / 44.94611; -93.09444