Formica Laminate is a laminated composite material invented at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in the United States in 1912. Originally used to replace mica in electrical applications, it has since been manufactured for multiple applications. It has been produced by Formica Group manufacturing sites across the globe since. Formica Group are best known for the company's classic product: a heat-resistant, wipe-clean laminate of paper or textile with melamine resin.
Formica Group, a division of the Dutch company Broadview Holdings, consists of Formica Canada, Inc., Formica Corporation, Formica de Mexico S.A. de C.V., Formica IKI Oy, Formica Limited, Formica S.A., Formica S.A.S., Formica Taiwan Corporation, Formica (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Formica (Asia) Ltd., and others.
The mineral mica was commonly used at that time for electrical insulation. Because the new product acted as a substitute "for mica", Faber used the name Formica as a trademark. The word already existed as the scientific name for wood ants, from which formic acid and the derivative formaldehyde compound used in the resin were first isolated.
Founding and initial product development
Formica laminate was invented in 1912 by Daniel J. O'Conor and Herbert A. Faber, while they were working at Westinghouse, resulting in a patent filing on 1 February 1913. U.S. Patent No. 1,284,432 was granted on 12 November 1918. O'Conor and Faber originally conceived it as a substitute for mica used as electrical insulation, made of wrapped woven fabric coated with Bakelite thermosetting resin, then slit lengthwise, flattened, and cured in a press.
Immediately afterwards, O'Conor and Faber left Westinghouse to establish a business based on the product, enlisting lawyer and banker John G. Tomlin as an investor. Tomlin provided $7,500 capital as a silent business partner. The company began operations on 2 May 1913, and was immediately successful: by September, Formica Products Company employed eighteen people trying to fill the demand for electrical parts for Bell Electric Motor, Ideal Electric, and Northwest Electric.
After the General Bakelite Company decided to sell resin for sheet insulation only to Westinghouse, allowing the Formica company other shapes with smaller markets, they switched to a similar competitive phenolic resin, Redmanol. After patent litigation favorable to Baekeland in 1922, the Redmanol Chemical Products Company was merged with the General Bakelite Company (founded by Baekeland in 1910) and the Condensite Company (founded by J. W. Aylesworth) to form The Bakelite Corporation.
An important application devised in the 1920s was the use of phenolic laminate fabric for gears; cut on conventional hobbing machines, the gears were tough and quiet, which was important for automotive timing gears. By 1932, the Formica Insulation Company was producing 6,000 gear blanks per day for Chevrolet and other car makers.
In 1927, Formica Insulation Company obtained a patent on an opaque barrier sheet that allowed the use of rotogravure printing to make wood-grained or marble-surfaced laminate, the first of many innovations that were to associate the name "Formica" with decorative interior products.
In 1938 melamine thermosetting resin was developed by American Cyanamid Company. It resisted heat, abrasion and moisture better than phenolic or urea resins and could be used to make more colors; soon after, the Formica Corporation was buying the entire output of melamine from American Cyanamid.
During World War II, it manufactured "Pregwood" plastic-impregnated wooden aeroplane propellers and bomb parts. Post-war, engineering uses declined, ceasing in 1970 in favor of decorative laminates.
The company was headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, for many years. After WWII, it entered the European market through a license agreement.
Acquisition by American Cyanamid
In 1956, American Cyanamid acquired Formica Corp. The principal reason was to have a captive buyer for melamine, as Cyanamid was one of the largest producers. However, this was soon thwarted due to an anti-trust action by the US Department of Justice. Through a settlement agreement, Formica Corp. was required to buy a significant share of its melamine needs from competing producers.
Cyanamid operated Formica Corp. as a fully consolidated subsidiary, rather than as an operating division, allowing it to retain the term "Formica" as a corporate name. This gave added protection to the trademark, helping to protect the word from becoming generic—which had been tried by many competitors, against whom Cyanamid gained legal injunctions—to protect this valuable trademark name. (Historically, trademarks owned by other corporations which had become generic words, such as "shredded wheat", were no longer the exclusive property of their originators. Cyanamid resolutely defended the Formica brand name.)
Dan O'Conor, son of the inventor, continued as president of Formica Corp. after the acquisition, and was widely regarded as the next chairman of American Cyanamid. However, he was thrown from his horse during a steeplechase event, suffering a broken neck and becoming quadriplegic, ending his business career and, many executives felt, preventing Cyanamid from achieving the growth and profitability it might have.[original research?]
From 2007 to 2019, Formica Corp. was a subsidiary of the Fletcher Building group, which purchased it from private equity investors Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. and Oaktree Capital Management, LLC. In 2018, Fletcher Building announced plans to sell Formica to Broadview Holdings (parent of Trespa) for NZD $1.226 billion (US$840 m); the sale was finalised the following year.
- Arborite, a similar and also popular paper-melamine composite, was developed in Canada in the 1940s.
- Micarta, trade name for Westinghouse decorative laminates, now produced by Norplex-Micarta.
- Wilsonart plastic laminate is a line of laminates similar to Formica.
- Consoweld, a similar twentieth-century product manufactured by Consolidated Paper of Wisconsin.
- "The History of Formica Corporation". Formica.com. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- Northeast finds Formica in top condition at 100, Financial Times, Chris Tighe, 31 January 2013
- U.S. Patent No. 1,284,432
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers Staff (1977). Twenty-Five Years of Chemical Engineering Progress. Ayer Publishing. p. 216. ISBN 0-8369-0149-5.
- "Shiny, happy households: Formica turns 100". the Guardian. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
- "Cyanamid Concern Formally Acquires Formica Company". The New York Times. 17 April 1956. p. 41.
- ROBERT J. COLE (12 October 1984). "Cyanamid Will Sell Formica; Deal Valued At $200 Million". The New York Times. p. D3.
- History of the Fletcher Building group Archived 14 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- "Formica Corporation Announces Purchase by Fletcher Building Limited" (Press release). Cincinnati, OH: Formica Corporation. 22 May 2007. Archived from the original on 27 June 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- "Fletcher Building announces sale of Formica; dividend reinstated". Fletcher Building. 18 December 2018.
- John Anthony (4 June 2019). "Fletcher Building downgrades profit after selling Formica". Stuff.co.nz.