Stahl’s History: 90 years of forward thinking

Stahl’s History: 90 years of forward thinking

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Our history started in 1930 when Stahl was founded by Harry Stahl in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA. It wasn’t an easy time to start a business – it was the Great Depression – but he believed that a business rooted in strong family values would thrive. And it did. With a combination of commitment, good ideas and the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and excellence, the company he founded has grown and grown.

A new leather finish creates a new market

Stahl’s first product was a leather finish for the tanning industry. At the time, tanners produced their own finishes to protect and color leather products. But Stahl could deliver higher quality in greater volumes. Harry Stahl had found a gap in the market. With the Stahl Finish factory meeting their need for leather processing chemicals and dyes, America’s tanners could concentrate on producing quality leather and growing their businesses.


International expansion to meet global demand

Stahl quickly built an excellent reputation and after World War II Harry Stahl, together with his sons Sam and Louis, set about growing the business beyond the USA. Demand for leather-related chemicals was growing around the world, and the family wanted to serve it. From the late 1940s, through the 1950s and 60s and on into the 70s and 80s, Stahl grew and expanded to become a global expert in performance coatings and finishes.


From the USA to the Netherlands

In 1990, the Stahl chemicals story took a twist when we moved our international headquarters to Waalwijk, in The Netherlands. It was the start of an exciting new push in our production of high-performance coatings and chemicals for processing leather. In 1991, we bought our Wet-End leather business and saw it take off. This was followed in 1992 by the introduction of water-based leather finishing for the automotive industry and hybrid resin, in 1993. In 1998, we introduced our PolyMatte® product range for matt leather and synthetics.


Rapid growth and increasing CSR

The successful story accelerated in the 2000s. We launched anti-squeak topcoats for car interiors in 2003, Pielcolor® joined the Stahl family in 2004, and in 2006 we opened a production location in China and founded Picassian®, a multifunctional polymer for food packaging. With every expansion, we created more opportunities and more partnerships, just as Harry Stahl had envisioned. At the same time, we began developing a new strategic driver for our business: sustainability. In 2011, we defined our CSR strategy; in 2012, we joined the United Nations Global Compact; and in 2013, we launched the bio-based PolyMatte®, a revolutionary sustainable product based on rapeseed oil (20%) in place of intermediates derived from crude oil. 


A sustainability driven business

These moves were followed by the acquisition of Clariant’s Leather Services Business, in 2014. A joint venture with OEM NuTech, in 2015, enabled us to enter the market for environmentally friendly powder coatings (and in 2018 we went further by taking over its R&D facilities and equipment). In 2016 we gained the rights to distribute Proviera® - Probiotics for Leather™. These offer a biotech alternative to the historic chemicals and processing techniques used in the leather industry. That same year we joined the ZDHC Foundation and bought Viswaat Chemicals Ltd. and Eagle’s Performance Products business. In 2017, we became a bluesign® system partner and acquired the Leather Chemicals division of BASF. 


A partnership driven business

Over the same period, we began to place even greater emphasis on the other key driver of our strategy alongside sustainability. This is partnership and collaboration. In line with our ambition to make our entire industry more sustainable, we founded Stahl Campus®, in 2014. This growing global knowledge center promotes good practices throughout the supply chain. And to stay ahead of our competitors and ensure even closer collaboration with our customers, we have further expanded our global presence by opening new application labs in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Japan and China. We have also opened Centers of Excellence in the Netherlands and Mexico, Italy and Spain.


Co-creating the future

With our strategy and vision, we are cementing our leadership in surface treatment and coating solutions for flexible materials. Through this we can look ahead with confidence to a future that we co-create every day alongside our partners and customers. Just as Harry Stahl would have wanted.


Infographic history Stahl


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Stahl’s History: 90 years of forward thinking
Anne ter Braak
Group Corporate Communications Manager