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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.
Formerly called
Economics Laboratory
S&P 500 Component
Traded as NYSEECL
Industry Conglomerate
Founded 1923 (1923)
Founder Merritt J. Osborn
Headquarters St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Key people
Douglas M. Baker, Jr (Chairman and CEO)
  • Increase US$14.2 billion (2014)
  • US$13.3 billion (2013)
  • Increase US$2.0 billion (2014)
  • US$1.6 billion (2013)
  • Increase US$1.2 billion (2013)
  • US$968 million (2013)
Number of employees
47,000 (2014)
Footnotes / references

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.[2][3]


Early years : 1923 - 1950s

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, forgoing revenues.

Years later, at age 44 and with two sons about ready for college, Osborn 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 Osborn 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. Osborn 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. Osborn 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[clarification needed] expanded throughout the United States and 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.[2]

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

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,[2] 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

Ecolab's headquarters in Saint Paul, Minnesota

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 ServiceMaster for US$103 million as it couldn't turn ChemLawn into a profitable business.[2] 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.[4]

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.[4]

In the mid-2000s, strategic acquisitions continued, and Ecolab diversified its portfolio of customer offerings by venturing into the 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.[5]

In 2008, Henkel sold all of the 73 million shares, i.e. nearly a 29.5% stake it held in Ecolab, ending the two-decade-long partnership.[6][7][8] The same year, Ecolab established Zurich as its EMEA headquarters.[5]

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.[9]

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.[10][11][12][13]

In May 2012, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, through his investment vehicles—Cascade Investment and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—increased his stake of 10.8% in Ecolab to 25%.[14][15][16]

In October 2012, Ecolab entered an agreement to acquire Champion Technologies.[17] That purchase closed in April 2013.[18]

In November 2015, for $40.5 million Ecolab acquired the U.S. operations of Charlotte, N.C.-based Swisher Hygiene which provides hygiene and sanitizing solutions for the foodservice, hospitality, retail and healthcare markets. [19] [20]


Ecolab employs approximately 47,000 people, and operates in more than 170 countries. It is organized in the following geographical divisions:

  • North America (based in St. Paul, Minnesota )
  • Europe (based in Zurich, Switzerland )
  • Middle East and Africa
  • Asia Pacific
  • Greater China
  • Latin America

Products and services

Ecolab provides water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to the food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets.[21][22]

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

See also


  1. "2014 Annual Report: 10-K". Ecolab. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 " | Ecolab". Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  3. "stake in Ecolab could get bigger". Reuters. 7 May 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Ecolab Closes on European Acquisition". 30 November 2001. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Ecolab timeline" (PDF). Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  6. "Henkel Directors to Resign from Ecolab Board". Reuters. July 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  7. "Henkel Completes Ecolab Divestment". Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  8. "Henkel announces successful public offering of its shares in Ecolab". November 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  9. Ethisphere Magazine
  10. "Ecolab Agrees To Buy Nalco For $5.4 Billion To Add Water-Treatment Service". July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  11. "Ecolab Closes on Merger With Nalco". 9 December 2003. Retrieved December 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. "Ecolab merger to build on Nalco’s legacy". December 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  13. "SEC filing: NALCO Holding Company". December 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  14. "Bill Gates Gets OK to Up Stake in Ecolab to 25%". 8 May 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  15. "Bill Gates' stake in Ecolab could get bigger". 7 May 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  16. "Reuters company profile - Ecolab". Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  22. Ecolab company profile

External links