History of 3M Tonawanda
In 1946 two chemical engineers and a chemist recognized an opportunity to
make cellulose sponges after a sponge blight swept through the vast Nassau and
Cuban sponge beds and WW II cut off the Mediterranean sponge supply from the
US market. The only remaining natural sponge bed in Tarpon Springs, Florida,
was to be for industrial and military uses during the wartime era, therefore,
there was demand for manufactured cellulose sponge. So Jack Bitzer, Chester
Hardt, and Gerald Murray left secure jobs in pursuit of an idea and started
O-Cel-O sponge. O-Cel-O™ sponge started manufacturing in 1947 for the
household market. In 1952 O-Cel-O™ was sold to General Mills for $3,400,000
in General Mills stock.
3M purchased the facility in 1990 and has invested heavily to continue to expand the operation and improve the manufacturing processes.
In 1992, a new office building and distribution warehouse were built. Also in 1992, the
first solvent recovery unit was installed to address environmental concerns.
In 1994 a laminating unit was purchased to increase sponge scrubber
manufacturing capacity. A decision was made in 2001 to consolidate 3M’s other
sponge making facility in Prairie duChein, Wisconsin, into the Tonawanda
plant, bringing with it a different manufacturing method to produce sponge
scrubbers. Recent investments include the replacement of 50+ year old
technology to handle manufacturing by-products, new wrapping machinery and
packaging automation. Investments in training all salary employees in Six
Sigma methodology has resulted in transactional and operational efficiencies.
3M continues to make investments in equipment, research, new technologies, and marketing to ensure Tonawanda remains the world's largest cellulose sponge producing facility.
Historical and sponge facts:
- The name O-Cel-O is derived from the chemical components Oxygen – Cellulose – Oxygen.
- Sponge produced in Tonawanda is shipped throughout the world.
- Holes in cellulose sponge are made from dissolved salt crystals.
- Cellulose sponge can hold 10 times it's weight in water.