A History of Innovation

From the very beginning, Ecolab and Nalco Water’s shared history has centered on using innovation to solve customer problems through the powerful combination of sound science and personalized, expert service.

Ecolab technician at a two-monitor workstation

Ecolab’s journey begins in 1923 with a chemistry formulation designed to clean carpets. The company quickly advanced to liquid formulations and the invention of dispensing devices designed to reduce customer exposure to chemistry and improve cost and performance by consistently delivering the correct product dose.

MJ Osborn

1923 M.J. Osborn founds Economics Laboratory, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota, with one employee, Ida Koran, hired to manage the office. He has one product, a carpet cleaner called Absorbit™. Absorbit’s limited market potential becomes quickly apparent, sending M.J. looking for alternatives. Ida Koran stays with the company for more than 40 years.

1924 M.J. Osborn incorporates the company and acquires a non-sudsing cleaning compound from a University of Minnesota chemistry student, Leonard H. Englund. He discovers it works better than ordinary soap in the mechanical dishwashers restaurants are beginning to use. He calls the product Soilax™ (soil + lax = soil loosen), and with its launch, sets the company on course to become a leader in warewashing. Soilax is one of the first colored detergents ever developed. In dry form, it is pink. When mixed with water in the proper proportion, the solution turns green. If too much Soilax is added, it turns yellow, a warning the solution is too strong.

1926 Economics Laboratory receives its first patent for Floroscene, a concentration indicator for Soilax.

1928 Economics Laboratory patents its first detergent dispensing system for commercial dishwashing machines. This sets the stage for what the company later markets as a “total systems” approach to cleaning and sanitation.

1932 Product demonstrations become a standard part of sales.

1933 Satin Wax™ for floors is introduced, as the company broadens its product portfolio.

1934 Soilax floor and wall cleaner is marketed to consumers through paint and hardware stores.

1934 Economics Laboratory returns to profitability after two years in the red, which was caused by the Great Depression. The company makes a profit of $98.

1935 E.B. Osborn turns Economics Laboratory salespeople into dishwashing consultants. They sell products, but also repair and maintain customers’ dishwashers, train kitchen employees, analyze dish-handling procedures and recommend ways to minimize breakage. They are on call 24 hours a day.

1936 MikroKlene™ germicidal rinse for dishes and glassware is developed. It is one of the first germicidal detergents on the market.

1937 Economics Laboratory pays first dividend: $1 per share.

1939 Annual sales reach $500,000 for the first time.

1942 Annual sales exceed $1 million for the first time.

1942 U.S. Army uses Economics Laboratory’s Lyndhurst, New Jersey, plant for war production. Economics Laboratory production moves to Brooklyn, New York.

1942 U.S. Army contracts with Economics Laboratory to produce MikroKlene™ germicidal rinse to combat dysentery. More than 30 million packages are delivered to Allied Forces during World War II for sterilizing troop mess kits. MikroKlene sales are credited with keeping the company going through four years of the war.

1946 E.B. Osborn produces Economics Laboratory’s first sales film, “Dishwashing Dividends,” part of the company’s innovative approach to sales.1948 Economics Laboratory invents rinse additive to speed dish drying.

1948  M.J. Osborn welcomes new employees with this message:

“What do we make? We all work together willingly to make nine of the world’s best cleaning products: SOILAX “A” and “B” for general cleaning; SUPER SOILAX and ELECTROSOL, for commercial and domestic dishwashing machines respectively; SOILAX “C,” also for mechanical dishwashing; TETROX for hand washing of glassware and dishes; PAN DANDY, a special de-greaser, wonderful for washing pots and pans; MIKRO-KLENE, a powder used in solution as a germicidal rinse for dishes and glassware; and GLASS MAGIC, a special product designed for use in mechanical brush-type glass-washing machines. Besides these, we produce special compounds for the U.S. Army and other government services… all of our products are aimed toward protecting the public health. And toward that end you are now working as one of us. This is a worthy – as well as profitable – enterprise. You can be proud to be associated with Economics Laboratory.”

1949 Economics Laboratory introduces Electrasol™ dishwashing detergent for the consumer market. 

Black and white image of an Ecolab technician scooping a product into equipment

1951 M.J. Osborn is elected chairman of the board. E.B. Osborn is elected president.

1951 Dairy division is established.

1953 International operations begin: the Institutional division, serving the hospitality and lodging industry, begins selling in Canada and Hawaii.

1953 Economics Laboratory introduces Finish™, a chlorinated dishwashing detergent, to the consumer market.

1954 Economics Laboratory introduces the first rinse injector system for automatic dishwashing as well as RinseDry.

1955-56 Strong business in Canada leads to formation of Canadian sales territory and a contract with a Canadian manufacturer to handle production. Economics Laboratory (Canada) Ltd., is formed as a fully owned subsidiary.

1956 Soilax AB, a fully owned subsidiary, is formed in Stockholm, Sweden.

1957 Family-owned Economics Laboratory goes public with a 100,000-share offering at $15 a share. At the time, associates control at least 25% of company’s common stock. Earnings per share rise on average more than 15% annually for the next 20 years.

1957 Industrial division is established to market cleaning and sanitation products to customers in the industrial sector. 

1958 Employee Stock Purchase Plan is adopted.

1958 Economics Laboratory expands into Mexico.

1960 Founder M.J. Osborn dies at age 81.

1960 International division is created under the leadership of Fred T. Lanners, Jr., who would later become CEO.

1961 Economics Laboratory acquires Beloit, Wisconsin-based Klenzade and its clean-in-place (CIP) technology. CIP eliminates dairy producers’ need to break down and hand wash their pipes and valves to clean them. Used with Economics Laboratory’s rinses and cleaning solutions, CIP allows dairy operators to clean miles of pipe with the push of a button.

1962 Plant and headquarters are built for International division in Toronto, Canada. International expansion continues in Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

1963 Construction begins on Economics Laboratory’s first European production plant, in Stockholm, Sweden.

1963 Sales exceed $50 million.

1964 Economics Laboratory acquires Magnus Chemical Company, Inc., a leader in aviation, marine, pulp and paper, petrochemical and industrial cleaning; provides entry to the industrial specialty market and leads to formation of an Industrial division.

1964 The Merritt J. Osborn Research & Development Center opens in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.1964 Solid Jet-Dry™ is introduced, providing the benefit of rinse additives to consumers whose automatic dishwashers do not have a built-in rinse injector.

1965 Score™, a new liquid commercial cleaner combining chlorine and high-strength alkali and polyphosphates, is developed and launched as institutional customers indicate preference for liquid over powder detergents.

1967 Economics Laboratory’s first employee Ida Koran dies. In her will, she creates The Ida C. Koran Foundation to provide assistance to Economics Laboratory employees during times of financial hardship and to provide scholarships to their children.

1968 Corporate offices move into the Osborn Building, a new 22-story corporate headquarters in downtown St. Paul.

1969 Annual sales exceed $100 million for the first time.

1970 International sales exceed $30 million across 40 countries. Economics Laboratory establishes European satellite headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, to guide efforts in 15 countries.

1970 Corporate and Public Affairs department is established in response to new laws on consumerism, pollution, and human and civil rights.

1971 Economics Laboratory reduces the use of phosphates in its detergents, a development that helps the company address environmental concerns and offer products to meet increasingly strict environmental regulations.

1972 Economics Laboratory acquires Raburn Products, maker of dishmachine racks and dishroom carts.

1973 E. B. Osborn is elected chairman and CEO; Economics Laboratory celebrates 50th anniversary.

1973 Economics Laboratory acquires Maritec Companies and forms the Magnus Maritec International, Inc., subsidiary, based in Palisades Park, New Jersey. Maritec specializes in cleaning chemicals for the international shipping trade.

1974 Economics Laboratory acquires Fraser Laundry Systems of Memphis, Tennessee, an institutional laundry business. The purchase enables Economics Laboratory to meet the need for laundry services by hotels, restaurants and other institutional customers that are increasingly using no-iron, permanent press table linens, bed linens and uniforms. 

1974 Economics Laboratory completes plant in Joliet, Illinois – its largest to date.

1975 Economics Laboratory opens first satellite research center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

1975 Economics Laboratory ranks on the annual list of Fortune 500 companies for the first time.

1977 International division establishes area headquarters in Latin America and Hawaii.

1978 E.B. Osborn ends tenure as CEO; dies months later at age 71. Fred Lanners is named CEO.

1979 Eco-Line™ is launched to target the food distribution market.

1979  Annual sales exceed $400 million for the first time; conducts business in more than 50 countries.

Late 1970s The service pin is introduced in the Institutional division. Worn by field sales and service representatives and other employees, it symbolizes the company’s commitment to exceptional customer service. 

Distributor utilizing Nalco Water's 3D TRASER.

1980 Economics Laboratory acquires Apollo Technologies for $71.3 million and forms the Industrial group. The purchase of Apollo, which manufactures chemicals and pollution-control equipment, aims to increase industrial market share and supplement the company’s Magnus industrial offerings.

1980 The Economics Laboratory Foundation is formed. After many years of informal philanthropy reflecting the interests of the founding Osborn family, a more formal philanthropy program is established with an initial budget of $180,000. Grants primarily support education, youth development, civic and community causes, and arts and culture and environmental organizations, with awards made primarily in the company’s headquarters community of St. Paul and neighboring Minneapolis.

1981 Solid Power™, a patented solid detergent capsule for institutional customers, is introduced. The groundbreaking product provides customers improved control, safety and cost savings. Within two years, Solid Power is the top-selling institutional warewashing detergent in the U.S.

1982 Fred Lanners retires as CEO.

1983 Pierson “Sandy” Grieve is elected chairman and CEO. Grieve’s prior experience at Questor, a consumer goods company, included acquisitions and corporate planning.

1983 The Consumer division introduces Scrub Free™, a heavy-duty bathroom cleaner that becomes the company’s most successful new product introduction ever.

1984 Economics Laboratory acquires pest elimination leader Lystads, Inc., of Grand Forks, North Dakota. This is the first of many regional pest service firms acquired to create a national Pest Elimination business.

1986 Economics Laboratory, Inc., changes its name to Ecolab

1986 Ecolab is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, a move that enhances the company’s standing in the investment community and builds investor interest.

1986 Institutional division headquarters, located in New York City for more than three decades, relocates to St. Paul, a move designed to consolidate Ecolab’s corporate offices under one roof and build a more cohesive organization.

1986 Ecolab acquires Airkem Professional Products and forms new Janitorial division.

1986 Magnus industrial operations are sold.

1987 Ecolab sells its Consumer division, which markets household products including dishwasher detergents Electrasol™ and Finish™, Jet Dry™ and Lime Away™.

1987 Ecolab acquires ChemLawn Corporation, the largest U.S. lawn care services company, for $376 million. With a nationally known brand and 1.5 million residential customers, ChemLawn is seen as a ready-made residential services business to complement the company’s institutional business.

1987 Ecolab forms a Textile Care division to serve commercial laundry customers that process at least one million pounds of linen a year.

1987 A Pest Elimination division is established; contributes $30 million in sales in 1987.

1988 The Institutional group is reorganized as the Ecolab Services group, headed by Allan L. Schuman, future CEO.

1991 Ecolab forms a strategic alliance with Henkel KGaA, a major chemical company based in Germany, to better position both companies for a newly united European market. The Henkel-Ecolab joint venture, headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany, has sales of more than $750 million.

1992 ChemLawn is sold for $107 million to Service Master L.P. Ecolab takes a $275 million loss. The sale enables the company to focus on its commercial cleaning and sanitizing businesses.

1992 Ecolab defines its business strategy as “Circle the Customer – Circle the Globe.” The strategy aims to surround customers with a growing array of cleaning and sanitizing products to address a wide range of needs and to serve them in markets around the world. The strategy provides a roadmap for business investment and growth.

1994 Ecolab acquires Kay Chemical, a leading cleaning products supplier to the quick-service restaurant market, one in which Ecolab has long sought a position.

1995 CEO Sandy Grieve retires. Al Schuman is elected president and chief executive officer.

1995 A Water Care Services division is formed following several acquisitions to provide water treatment programs to institutional and industrial customers.

1995 Klenzade is renamed the Ecolab Food & Beverage division.

1997 GeoSystem™ 9000, the third-generation of institutional solid detergents, is introduced.

1997 Ecolab acquires Melbourne, Australia-based Gibson Chemical Industries Ltd., supplier of cleaning and sanitizing products to the Australian and New Zealand institutional, healthcare and industrial markets. The acquisition provides a base for growth in the Asia-Pacific market.

1997 Ecolab acquires the specialty chemical business of Grace-Lee Products, Inc., a step toward building its presence as a provider of cleaning chemicals to the commercial car washing market.

1998 Ecolab celebrates 75 years in business.

1998 Ecolab acquires Danbury, Connecticut-based GCS Service, Inc., gaining entry into the commercial kitchen equipment repair business. The idea is to make the new division a national service company for commercial foodservice customers.

1999 Ecolab acquires Blue Coral Systems, a subsidiary of the Pennzoil-Quaker State Company, further building market share in the commercial car wash market.

1999 Nalco Water’s ULTIMER® polymer technology receives the U.S. Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. The Green Chemistry program recognizes and promotes the development of innovative chemical technologies that prevent pollution and that have broad industrial applications.

1999 Annual sales exceed $2 billion.

2001 Ecolab purchases the remaining 50 percent share of Henkel-Ecolab, officially creating “one Ecolab” in Europe and throughout the world.

2002 Ecolab launches EcoSure™ food safety management, providing audits of food safety procedures in foodservice and hospitality facilities across the U.S.

2004 Al Schuman retires as CEO; Douglas M. Baker, Jr., who joined Ecolab in 1989, is appointed to succeed him.

2004 A Healthcare business unit is created to enable greater focus on this important growth market.

2004 Ecolab releases it’s first ever Corporate Sustainability Report, to track how the company "continually finds ways to deliver better product solutions for our customers in ways that better preserve our environment.” Ecolab has released a sustainability report every year since 2004.

2005 Ecolab opens a new Global Research, Development & Engineering Center in Eagan, Minnesota.

2006 Ecolab wins the Black Pearl Award for Corporate Excellence in Food Safety and Quality, presented by the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP). This award can only be won once.

2007 Ecolab acquires Microtek Medical Holdings, Inc., expanding its infection prevention expertise and offerings to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

2007 Ecolab is included in Ethispheres’ first World’s Most Ethical Companies list, which recognizes companies who exemplify transparency, integrity, ethics and compliance in their business practices. Ecolab has been on the list every year since – one of only six companies to maintain that distinction.

2008 Ecolab launches Apex™, a new warewashing platform that adds dishmachine performance metrics to its advanced product and dispensing technology. The performance metrics provide insights that help customers make adjustments and achieve the best cleaning results at the lowest total cost and environmental impact.

2008 Ecolab’s European headquarters open in Zurich, Switzerland.

2008 Ecolab begins building operations in China. From 2008 to 2012, it invests $150 million in Chinese markets, adding plants in Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taiwan, as well as its largest production plant in China, in Taicang, which opens in 2012.

2008 Nalco Company wins a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its 3D TRASAR® Technology for Cooling Water. 

2009 Annual sales grow to $5.9 billion.

Two Ecolab experts in hardhats conversating on site in an outdoor industrial area.

2011 Ecolab acquires Naperville, Illinois-based Nalco for $8 billion – its largest acquisition to-date. The merger instantly transforms Ecolab into the global leader in water management in the industrial, institutional and energy sectors and positions it to serve more customers more with a more comprehensive portfolio of products. The acquisition includes an important innovation called 3D TRASAR Technology, which uses 24/7 automated sensing and monitoring to detect and automatically correct water quality problems in cooling towers and boilers.

2011 Ecolab strengthens its global healthcare offerings through acquisitions, including O.R. Solutions, Inc., a leading U.S. developer of surgical fluid warming and cooling systems and consumable custom sterile drapes, and Esoform, the largest independent Italian healthcare manufacturer.

2012 A new manufacturing plant and distribution center opens in Taicang, China, the company’s largest facility in the Asia-Pacific region. The plant is designed for environmental sustainability, reducing energy and water consumption while minimizing waste production.

2012 Major research, development and engineering centers around the world are consolidated to foster collaboration and leverage the company’s scientific and technical expertise.

2013 Ecolab purchases privately held Champion Technologies for $2.2 billion. The formation of the Nalco Champion business unit strengthens Ecolab’s position in the fast-growing upstream energy services market.

2014 A European Innovation Center opens in Monheim, Germany.

2014 New manufacturing plant opens on Jurong Island, Singapore, to serve Nalco Champion’s energy customers in Asia Pacific.

2014 Ecolab, working with TruCost, launches the Water Risk Monetizer. It provides an online, no-cost financial modeling tool enabling businesses to assess and monetize the risk of water scarcity to their operations.

2014 Solid chemistry is used with 3D TRASAR™ Technology for the first time. Compared with traditional liquid chemicals, “solids” offer safety and sustainability benefits, especially for hotel and other institutional customers who manage water treatment in their cooling towers. 3D TRASAR Technology, which automatically detects, determines and dispenses chemistry to maintain good water quality, was developed by Nalco for use in cooling towers prior to the 2011 Ecolab-Nalco merger.

2014 3D TRASAR™ for CIP, an innovation for dairies, breweries and soft food manufacturers who use clean-in-place (CIP) procedures to clean their pipes and tanks, is introduced. Building on technologies used in earlier 3D TRASAR Technology applications, it uses advanced sensors to monitor chemistry in CIP systems and provide visibility into cleaning, sanitizing and operational issues.

2015 Ecolab purchases its current headquarters building in downtown St. Paul and begins moving corporate associates to the new building.

2015 Ecolab introduces the next generation of 3D TRASAR™ Technology for Cooling Water. It enables customers to manage complex cooling systems more efficiently.2015 Ecolab introduces the Syncra™ Hand Hygiene System, providing touch-free water and soap delivery at restaurant handwashing stations. It aims to help improve handwashing compliance and food safety.

2015 Ecolab launches Restora™, a laundry formulation that removes medical adhesives, such as those on heart monitoring pads. It enables healthcare laundries to reduce the need for linen replacement due to adhesive stains.

2015 Nalco Champion opens new headquarters in Sugar Land, Texas.

2015 Fortune magazine names Ecolab to its list of companies that are “changing the world,” a nod to organizations that are “doing well by doing good,” and to its list of “fastest-growing companies to watch.”

2016 Ecolab acquires UltraClenz, a developer of electronic hand hygiene compliance monitoring systems and dispensers.

2016 Ecolab introduces Synergex™ Sanitizer and Disinfectant, an addition to the company’s antimicrobial solutions for dairy, food and beverage and brewery customers.

2016 Ecolab makes a minority equity investment in Aquatech International, a global leader in solutions that improve water quality and reduce net water usage.

2017 Ecolab acquires the Georgia-Pacific Paper chemicals business, adding capabilities to help improve machine efficiency, water and energy savings, product quality and profitability for pulp and paper customers.

2017 Ecolab acquires Laboratoires Anios, a leading European manufacturer of hygiene and disinfection products for the healthcare, food service and food and beverage processing industries.2017 Ecolab acquires Abednego Environmental Services, adding offerings that help automotive customers recycle water, reduce energy use and reduce waste.

2017 Ecolab is named to the Water A List by CDP, the nonprofit global environmental disclosure platform. It is one of 73 A List global companies recognized for efforts to manage water more sustainably.

2018 Ecolab receives World Environment Center’s 2018 Gold Medal Award for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development. The WEC selected Ecolab to receive the award for its initiatives to promote global water conservation, its sustainability commitments and partnerships, and its integration of sustainability within innovation processes.

2018 Ecolab signs The Human Rights Campaign’s Business Statement on Transgender Equality, which calls for respect and transparency in policy-making, and for full equality under the law.

2019 Ecolab joins the U.N. Global Compact’s Business Ambition for 1.5⁰C, and commits to halving its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050.

2019 Ecolab acquires Lobster Ink, a leading provider of end-to-end online customer training solutions. It provides Ecolab with an ability to meet the unique training needs of hospitality and foodservice companies in 130 countries globally.

2019 Ecolab acquires Bioquell PLC, a leading provider of hydrogen peroxide vapor bio-decontamination systems and services for the life sciences and healthcare industries.

2019 Ecolab acquires Chemstar Corporation, a U.S.-based supplier of food safety and cleaning and sanitizing solutions focused on the grocery and food retail markets. 

2019 Ecolab launched the Smart Water Navigator, a free online tool to help businesses improve water management at their facilities in the face of growing global water scarcity.

2020 Ecolab announces its membership in the new Water Resilience Coalition, an industry-driven initiative of the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate. The Coalition aims to elevate global water stress to the top of the corporate agenda and preserve the world’s freshwater resources through collective action in water-stressed basins and ambitious, quantifiable commitments.

2020 Ecolab is named to the Water Security and Climate A lists by CDP, the nonprofit global environmental disclosure platform. This double A listing recognizes Ecolab’s environmental leadership, transparency and action.

2020 Ecolab separates its upstream energy business, which is renamed ChampionX. ChampionX combines with Apergy, creating a scaled, global leader in production-optimization solutions.

2020 Ecolab launches its next generation of sustainability goals. The 2030 Impact Goals aim to create a positive impact in the world in partnership with customers and by advancing sustainability in Ecolab’s own operations.

2020 Responding to customer demand during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company launches the Ecolab Science Certified program. Using a comprehensive, science-based approach, the program combines advanced chemistry with new public health training and audit verification to deliver a high standard of cleanliness for public health and food safety.

2021 Ecolab launches Water Flow Intelligence, a service that helps identify water savings opportunities with industry-leading expertise, asset performance insights, and leak and flow analysis. 

2021 Ecolab launches Global Chemical, a new strategic business unit that focuses on an end-to-end, holistic approaches to water, carbon and energy challenges for a variety of chemical segments. Global Chemical will leverage 100 years of Ecolab water and process experience to create new, streamlined approaches for the chemical industry that include the use of digital ecosystems combined with circular economy expertise.

2021 Ecolab opens Healthcare Advanced Design Center in Eagan, Minn. The state-of-the-art innovation center enables Ecolab Healthcare to partner with medical device industry customers on infection prevention solutions for their cutting-edge surgical equipment and develop new solutions for hospitals and surgery centers. 

2021 Ecolab introduces a holistic suite of offerings for ethylene producers and chemical recyclers of plastic waste that use and produce an alternate recycled plastic feedstock called pyrolysis oil.

2021 Doug Baker retires as CEO, stays on as Chairman; Christophe Beck becomes CEO.

2021 Ecolab acquires Purolite, a Leading Global Provider of Fast-Growing, High Value Separation and Purification Solutions to Life Sciences and Critical Industrial Markets.

2022 Ecolab unveils the Ecolab Global Intelligence Center to help companies enhance data-driven performance and sustainability.2022 Ecolab introduces Ecolab Verified Delivery System, which uses digital technology to record critical information and ensure safety of deliveries.

2022 Ecolab Water for Climate™ is introduced as an innovative sustainability program helping companies meet their ambitious climate goals without compromising business growth.

2022 Ecolab named a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality for 10 consecutive years.

2022 Ecolab named a Best Company to Sell For for the 7th consecutive year.

2022 The Ecolab Foundation has contributed more than $139 million to nonprofit organizations since its inception in 1980.

2022 Ecolab is recognized for Sustainability Leadership by CDP and Dow Jones Sustainability World and North America Indices. This marks the fourth consecutive year of being recognized by CDP for water security and second consecutive year for climate. It’s Ecolab’s third consecutive year on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and eighth consecutive year on the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index.

2023 Ecolab named to the Bloomberg Gender Equality list for 4th consecutive year.