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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.

Tonawanda Plant


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