The history of AkzoNobel

The name of chemical group AkzoNobel has existed since 1994 when the Dutch Akzo merged with the Swedish company Nobel. We have known the name Akzo since 1969, but that name also arose through mergers. AkzoNobel’s history goes far back, very far, even to 1777.

Sikkens, a turbulent start

Here in the Netherlands we know the start of AkzoNobel at the family business Sikkens. The painter and glazier Wiert Willemszoon Sikkens started a small lacquer and varnish distillery in a gatehouse of the city wall of Groningen in 1792. He then employs 12 people. More than 100 years later, the family has not been at the helm for about 20 years and the company then works from a new factory and a warehouse in Groningen. Housing is being built around the factory, but people are complaining. Akzo stinks and people are afraid of fire. There will then be a new factory, where new products can be made. Sikkens is already so important, the company even has customers throughout Europe, that they can bear the designation Royal, the year is 1905. In 1914 the First World War breaks out, a tragedy for the company. The borders are closing and Sikkens is losing 70% of its turnover. However, the company is creative, gets the most out of it in the Netherlands and prepares a sales and distribution system, which they set up immediately after the war.

The company is growing

Sikkens stands for quality and quickly gained a good name outside Europe. The company continues to expand and new paints and techniques are constantly being developed. In the 1930s, Sikkens started advertising through videos and of course they were pioneers in color images, albeit still primitive. Sikkens now has large, well-known customers, such as Philips, Fokker, KLM and Lips. In 1938 the company employed about 90 people. They then move to Sassenheim in the Randstad, closer to many customers, very cleverly along a busy road and railway line. Sikkens must have been a good employer, because most employees moved with them. Most factory people will live in Noordwijk, in what Noordwijkers still call the Groninger Buurt. During the Second World War, our own company fire brigade and a protection team against air raids were established, which soon turned out to be desperately needed. The company suffers a lot of damage and production comes to a complete standstill. After the war, reconstruction takes place and a lot of paint is therefore needed, but Sikkens cannot obtain enough raw materials. They will therefore make their own synthetic resins as raw materials. In 1948 the company was already in full swing, employing 229 people.

Mergers and acquisitions

A long series of takeovers and mergers began in the 1950s. First wall paint factory Alpha from Alphen aan den Rijn, then do-it-yourself paint maker Tjallema from Sneek. Sikkens starts new companies Sicova and Sikkens Smit. These companies join together in the Sikkens Group. In 1962, Sikkens took over the Valsparlokken brand from another company. Do-it-yourself producer CetaBever follows suit, as does Talens, which does so in artistic painting paints. In that year, 1962, Sikkens joined Koninklijke Zout Ketjes, KZK, which in turn merged with Koninklijke Zwanenberg Organon, KZO (1), creating Koninklijke Zout Organon, KZO (2). This company also has a history of mergers and acquisitions. KZO even acquired an impressive number of companies at home and abroad in a short period of time, such as Pure Chemicals from England, Hoesch Chemie, paint maker Lesonal from Germany, but also soap manufacturer Dobbelman and snack maker Duyvis. In 1969, the name AKZO was created when Koninklijke Zou Organon merged with the Algemeen Kunstzijde Unie, AKO, a chemical fiber company with around 47 factories spread all over the world. In 1992, AKZO celebrated its 200th anniversary.

Global concern Akzo and a small company from 1777, Det Holmbladske Selskab

The Akzo company is a global concern that produces a wide variety of products. To name a few: salt, soda, chlorine, sulfuric acid, petroleum catalysts, fatty acids, alcohol, rubber chemicals, birth control pills, health care products, soup, sauces, peanuts, snacks, soaps, cleansers, cosmetics, chemical fibers, processed meats, painting and varnishing. At that time, Akzo had a turnover of six billion guilders and a net profit of 300 million. About 91,700 people work there, more than a third of whom work in the Netherlands. But that is the history from Sikkens to Akzo. When the company merges with the Swedish coatings company Nobel Industries, an older arm will be added. In 1777, so 15 years before Mr. Sikkens took his initiative, a small paint factory was founded in Denmark, called Det Holmbladske Selskab. This company, like Sikkens, still lives on in the coatings brand Sadolin.

Akzo Nobel

In 1999, thirty years after the merger between Akzo and Nobel, Akzo Nobel grew to a turnover of 27.5 billion guilders and a net profit of 1.63 billion. Fewer people work, 85,900, 19,000 in our country. Various parts that are less suitable for the company have now been sold, such as Sara Lee/Douwe Egberts. The company takes a big step with the takeover of the American Stauffer Chemical Company, which they buy for 1.3 billion guilders. This makes the Chemical Division the largest group in the company. Then followed another major takeover, with the English Courtaulds, originally a fiber company, but now a large company in coatings for steel protection and shipbuilding. At that time, Akzo Nobel was the largest paint and varnish producer in the world. The fiber division will then be sold, allowing investments to be made in the three remaining divisions: Pharma, Coatings and Chemicals.

The Courant of the Century – full of nostalgia

On the website of, now AkzoNobel (without space) you will find De Courant van de Eeuw. This first edition of this newspaper, printed in December 1999, appears, as you can read there, once every hundred years. So we should leave the reading of the next newspaper to our children and grandchildren. This first copy is full of evocative stories and photos from the turbulent first two hundred years of the various companies from which AkzoNobel was founded. About Boldoot, which we all know from the Eau de Cologne, which started out as a medicine for all kinds of ailments. The product became so popular that a store was opened in Kalverstraat. It still stands and is now a monument. It is written about Ketjen, a sulfur and hydrochloric acid factory, and about a bombing of the factory, causing thousands of tons of sulfuric acid to flow into the IJ. About neighboring growers who come with withered roots in their hands to tell us a story after the escape of sulfur fumes. There is a nice story about the Van der Lande brothers from Deventer, who supply sour flour to a baker and thereby learn to make flour for whiter and tastier bread. You will find a page about Willem Hasselt who discovered that there is a trade in cheese and powder rennet and butter and cheese coloring. You will find these, but many more nostalgic stories and facts. Worth the effort!

In the meantime

The company has changed again, it doesn’t stop. Organon BioSciences, which is now regularly in the news due to a threatened closure, is sold to Schering-Plough in 2007 for 11 billion euros. This was followed by another takeover, that of the British Imperial Chemical Industries. There are now three new branches, no more Pharma, but Decorative Paints, Performance Coatings and Specialty Chemicals.