The excursion with the ESC this week was to the largest chemical producer in the world, BASF. Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF), which translates directly as the Baden Aniline and Soda Factory, is located in Ludwigshafen, Germany about an hour (after train and tram connections) away from Heidelberg. BASF coined their slogan, “We create chemistry” and they surely do. For scale, BASF has customers in over 200 countries, supplies their products to a number of industries, and has recorded sales just north of 70 billion euro (about $78 billion). Additionally, BASF is listed not only the New York Stock Exchange but the Frankfurt, London, and Zurich Stock Exchange as well.
The tour itself was only half as interesting as the impact BASF has on the world today. To start the tour, we rode on a privately chartered bus through the BASF headquarters accompanied by a tour/audio guide. The amenities were very interesting, however, at the conclusion of the tour, we never even saw inside any of the buildings where the products were being produced. Perhaps I was simply spoiled from John Deere’s company tour. *Side note…I did find their BASF photobooth quite engaging…see for yourself.
At the conclusion of the bus tour, we did actually tour their “Visitor’s Center” which was very interesting. Broken down by floors, our group was able to gain an understanding of how BASF came to be in terms of its history, how BASF products are made to tingle our senses of sound, smell, and taste.
Many may not know that BASF actually manufactured the poison gas called Zyklon B that was used in extermination camps during World War II. Needless to say, our tour guide did not cover this part of their history. Therefore, I conducted my own brief research on the topic.
Zyklon B is a toxic gas created from hydrogen cyanide typically used to kill rats and insects. These chemicals supplied by BASF were in pellet-form and were thrown down air shafts and killed over 1 million prisoners in the camps. The record shows that BASF and their chairman, Carl Wurster, claimed they were not aware of the misuse of their Zyklon B.
In their defense, they claimed they thought the Zyklon B was being used in the camps to kill off lice. Because of this, they figured the increase in demand was due to the increased population in the camps. Surprisingly so, Wurster was later acquitted of all charges in 1948. Talk about damaging a brand’s image. In fact, BASF practically had to build their company from the ground up after World War II had ended.
Moving away from BASF history, we had the opportunity to interact with BASF products that we see in our daily lives. A pair of running shoes, astroturf, cars, styrofoam, artificial scents, and even pieces of furniture were all created with the help of BASF production. It was interesting to know that many things I have used so often, have come straight out of the BASF factory.
Souvenir from the trip? Surely. A little BASF (assemble yourself) worker-bee.