The development of water-based acrylic emulsion technology — which sparked the growth of the do-it-yourself paint market — will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia on September 15.
ACS will pay tribute to Rohm and Haas, whose scientists invented the water-based acrylic emulsion technology that transformed home painting from a smelly, messy ordeal that required turpentine and other solvents to clean up spills and brushes into a cleaner and more user-friendly process.
Thomas H. Lane, Ph.D., ACS president-elect, will present a commemorative plaque for the landmark designation to Raj Gupta, Chairman and CEO of Rohm and Haas.
“The ACS has recognized only 62 chemical landmarks since the inception of the program in 1993. This makes the award to Rohm and Haas a mark of distinction for contributions that reach far beyond the boundaries of scientific practitioners, touching many lives over many decades.” says Lane, who is Director, Global Science and Technology Outreach and Senior Research Scientist, at Dow Corning Corporation.
“It is quite an honor to be recognized as the key developer of acrylic emulsion technology by such an esteemed organization as the ACS,” said Gupta. “The pivotal role Rohm and Haas has played reflects the inventiveness and leadership of both our customers and the thousands of employees whose work has transformed multiple industries — all the while eliminating the air pollution caused by the technologies our water-based chemistry replaced. The good news is that there is tremendous life yet for acrylic emulsion technology. We continue to find new markets and geographies for our chemistry — breaking barriers in industrial and building applications that were once thought impossible. The best may be yet to come for acrylic emulsion technology.”
Rohm and Haas’ innovation coincided with the return of veterans from World War II, which touched off a housing boom. Housing starts soared tenfold, which meant a lot of homes needed paint, interior and exterior. Paints then available were oil-based or “alkyds,” with liquid consisting of petroleum-based materials. The new water-based products sparked the growth of do-it-yourself paint market.
Solvent-based paints dominated the market, but they were smelly, potentially toxic, flammable, and clean up required more unpleasant solvents like turpentine. Clearly, there was room for improvement, and Rohm and Haas scientists set to work on discovering a new paint formula with a pleasant odor that allowed consumers to clean up afterwards with ordinary water.
One promising avenue was acrylic chemistry, a field in which Rohm and Haas already had experience. The company’s leading product was acrylic PlexiglasTM, a lightweight, shatterproof glass substitute used in airplanes and other military vehicles.
Rohm and Haas chemists suggested using aqueous acrylic emulsion technology to make house paints. The technology already had produced two leading products for Rohm and Haas — PrimalTM, a waterproof leather coating, and RhoplexTM, a textile finish. In 1953, the scientists developed RhoplexTM AC-33, a binder that is critical in paint formulations. It prevents various ingredients in paint from separating, and enables paint to bond to surfaces and withstand the onslaught of wind, sun, cold, and rain.
Acrylic emulsions are environmentally friendly, non-toxic, non-flammable, easy to clean up with water, colorfast, and resistant to cracking and yellowing.
Early acrylics had a low gloss and cost more than other paints. But gradually, Rohm and Haas chemists developed emulsions that were more durable, easier to use, and had enhanced gloss. By 1978, acrylic emulsions had all but supplanted oil-based exterior paints in the American market. In the next 30 years, Rohm and Haas acrylic emulsions found uses in new generations of inks, textile finishes, floor polishes, cement modifiers, roof resins, and other products.
The American Chemical Society established the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal historic events in chemistry and to increase awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society.
Some of the 62 landmarks named through this prestigious program include the invention of Bakelite, the discovery of penicillin, the development of Tide laundry detergent. The program also has honored the work of Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, George Washington Carver and other historic figures. For more on the Landmark program, please visit www.acs.org/landmarks.