British Celanese

British Celanese was a chemical company based in England. Formed in 1916,[1] it survived as an independent company until 1957 when it became a subsidiary of Courtaulds.

British Celanese
IndustryAcetate, Chemicals
PredecessorBritish Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company ltd
1957 (under Courtaulds)
(except Clarifoil)
Key people
Henri Dreyfus
Camille Dreyfus
ProductsAcetic acid, Acetate fibres


The origins of the company lie with two brothers, Henri and Camille Dreyfus. In 1912, they set up "Cellonit Gesellschaft Dreyfus and Co" in Basel, Switzerland. In 1916, the brothers were invited to live in Britain by the British Government, to produce their recently developed cellulose acetate dope for the war effort; the canvas skins of aircraft of the time were sealed and made taut with nitrocellulose dope, which was easily ignited by bullets.[2] They developed the necessary plant and "British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Co" was registered on March 18, 1916.[3] The British Government patented the process developed by Henri Dreyfus, which lowered the costs of acetic anhydride production,[4] an important reagent in the production of cellulose acetate. At the end of World War I, the British Government cancelled all contracts and the company changed to produce acetate fibres. In 1923[5] the company name was changed to British Celanese Ltd, a contraction of cellulose and ease.[6] Softer and stronger, as well as being cheaper to produce than other fabrics used at the time such as satin or taffeta, Celanese was used in the production of garments.[7]

British Celanese was the first factory in Britain to produce propylene and from it isopropyl alcohol and acetone in 1942.[8]

Clarifoil production developed out of cellulose acetate yarn technology. Clarifoil full-scale production commenced from 1947.

Henri Dreyfus died in 1944. Camille Dreyfus died in 1956.

In 1957, British Celanese was taken over by Courtaulds.[9] The site is now operated by Celanese.

The plant with the exception of Clarifoil finally closed after the last shift on Wednesday 14 November 2012.[10]


British Celanese had its principal manufacturing facility at Spondon in Derby. The site was constructed between 1916-1918[5][11] by Sir Robert McAlpine with £5million provided by the War Office.[5] Over 30million bricks were used in the construction, and the original site covered 121 hectares.[11]


  1. "British industrial history: British Celanese". Grace's guide. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  2. Dinsmoor, Dorothy. "Camille & Henry Dreyfus: Two Pioneers". Archived from the original on 7 October 2015. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  3. "The Cellulose Inquiry". Flight (21 August 1919) No. 556 XI(34) p1119
  4. "Celanese Acetate History". Celanese Acetate. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  5. Roy Christian (January 1999). "Spondon". Derbyshire Life 64 (1) p50
  6. "Our history". Celanese Acetate. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  7. "Celanese, the Fashion Fabric of 20s".
  8. A history of the international chemical industry. Fred Aftalion
  9. D. C. Coleman: Courtaulds: an Economic and Social History: Rayon
  10. Johnson, Robin. "Last workers leave Derby's Celanese Acetate today as plant closes after almost 100 years". Derby Telegraph. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  11. "Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd Timeline". Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 20 February 2012.

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