100 Years in Business

The Path to a Global Chemical Company

2015 marked 100 years since Sumitomo Chemical began its operation as a fertilizer manufacturing plant with the House of Sumitomo. In the intervening years our company has grown from a small family-run business to a global chemical company, diversifying along the way into specialty chemicals, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and IT-related chemicals. Following are some of the highlights of Sumitomo Chemical’s inspiring path to becoming the global chemical company we are today!

Sumitomo Fertilizer Works

Sumitomo Fertilizer Works, the predecessor of Sumitomo Chemical, was established with two missions: to resolve the pollution caused by gas emissions from copper production and to produce fertilizers to help farmers improve their harvests. The company began its business based on a spirit of corporate social responsibility (CSR) — or contributing to society through its business activities — long before the term became popular. The company began construction, preparation for production, and sales and marketing in 1913 under the direct management of the Sumitomo General Head Office. Actual sales began with a shipment of calcium superphosphate on October 4, 1915 and ten years later the business was incorporated as The Sumitomo Fertilizer Works, Ltd.

Sumitomo Chemical Company

While the Sumitomo Fertilizer Works initially went into the fertilizer business as a way to resolve the pollution caused by sulfur dioxide gas emissions from copper smelting, efforts at business growth led to finding new ways of consuming sulfuric acid. Production of ammonium sulfate, which used twice as much sulfuric acid as calcium superphosphate, was proposed as a solution. Production of nitric acid, methanol, formalin, and other industrial chemical businesses was also expanded, thus preparing the foundation for a shift from a fertilizer manufacturer to a chemical company, and in 1944 Sumitomo Chemical merged with Japan Dyestuff Manufacturing, thus moving the company even more firmly into fine chemicals, including dyes, pharmaceuticals, and agrochemicals. In 1934 the company officially changed its name to Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd.

Agricultural Chemicals

Sumitomo Chemical expanded into agricultural chemicals — household insecticides and agrochemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides — in the 1950s. The first insecticidal product for household use was Pynamin (allethrin), while the first agrochemicals product was parathion, an imported organophosphorus insecticide. Following parathion, SCC developed Sumithion (fenitrothion), which replaced parathion and was well accepted in the market. With good sales of household insecticides and highly safe agrochemicals Sumitomo Chemical’s Agricultural Chemicals Sector played an increasingly important role in the growth of the company’s fine chemicals business.

Growth of the Pharmaceutical Sector

In the 1950s Sumitomo Chemical’s Pharmaceuticals Sector began to expand through joint ventures with overseas corporations. New pharmaceuticals such as neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular drugs, as well as anti-inflammatory analgesics, were launched. At the same time the company’s synthetic pharmaceutical technology was demonstrated through the development of new production methods for Indometacin and Diazepam. By the beginning of the 1980s pharmaceutical sales for the company had grown dramatically and the Pharmaceutical Sector became an important part of SCC’s overall business.

Entering the Field of Petrochemicals

In 1958 Sumitomo Chemical built one of the first ethylene plants in Japan in Ehime Prefecture, thus advancing into the field of petrochemicals. The business was further expanded with a subsequent plant in Chiba Prefecture that was capable of large-scale ethylene production and the launch of a wide range of derivative products. The oil crises of the 1970s hit the Japanese petrochemical industry hard, requiring SCC to go through a period of restructuring at its two Japanese plants. At the same time construction of the Singapore Petrochemical Complex, SCC’s first overseas project in petrochemicals, brought the company valuable experience as it moved toward full-scale globalization. Lessons learned from the Singapore Project were brought into play in later global developments such as the Rabigh project, SCC’s first attempt to establish a foothold in an oil and gas-producing country, Saudi Arabia, opening a new stage in Sumitomo Chemical’s global business strategy.

IT Related Chemicals

Sumitomo Chemical established its IT-related Chemicals Sector in October 2001, positioning IT-related chemicals business as “one of the pillars supporting the company’s future.” South Korea, China, and Taiwan were identified as markets with the greatest potential and production companies were established in these areas to actively expand business. With the dramatic increase in the use of LCD panels on flat-screen TVs, personal computers, and mobile phones, Sumitomo Chemical recorded strong growth in sales of LCD display materials such as polarizing films and color filters. 

A Global Company for A Better Tomorrow

The world faces many problems today that are challenging to solve, including limited resources, the need for a vast amount of energy, and feeding over seven billion people. At Sumitomo Chemical we strive to address these challenges and promote next-generation businesses by focusing on three key areas: environment and energy, life sciences, and information and communications technology (ICT). We promote globally integrated management with an established business philosophy and a strong HR system, and practice “sustainable chemistry” built on our CSR-based management. Guided by our Corporate Slogan “Creative Hybrid Chemistry” Sumitomo Chemical aims to be a truly global chemical company that achieves sustainable growth with society and a resolution to the world’s challenges. Using our strengths in the diverse fields of chemistry we at Sumitomo Chemical look forward to moving into our next 100 years of business.