Dr. Otto Bayer

Otto Bayer (November 4, 1902 in Frankfurt, Germany – August 1, 1982 in Burscheid, Germany) was a German industrial chemist at IG Farben who was head of the research group that in 1937 discovered the polyaddition for the synthesis of polyurethanes out of poly-isocyanate and polyol. Dr. Bayer is recognized as the “father” of the polyurethanes industry for his invention of the basic diisocyanate polyaddition process.

Bayer was intuitive, observant, and curious. And, it was through his expertise and intelligence that he became the manager of research at I.G. Farbenindustrie Laboratories at Leverkusen, Germany when he was in his twenties.

Bayer was the first to understand the reaction created from adding difunctional reactants to obtain a versatile family of polyurethane fibers, foams, elastomers, plastics and coatings, including the squeegees we use in the screenprinting process today.

In this position he directed the work of Tschunker, Bock, Konrad, and Kleiner, which led to Buna S and Buna N, which are the worlds most widely used synthetic elastomers.

He is also known for registering the first research achievements in the field of vat and sulfur dyes and in the lightfastness of dyes, which up until that time, dyed fabrics bleached out very quickly when exposed to light.

Bayer received honorary doctoral degrees from six universities as a pioneer in polymer science, and became one of the worlds most renowned chemical chemists.

In 1934, at the young age of 32, Bayer was transferred to another of I.G. Farbenindustrie’s holdings, Bayer AG, as head of the Central Scientific Laboratory. And, yes, this is the same Bayer company that first created the aspirin. Otto Bayer was not related to the family that started Bayer AG.

After Bayer had registered his first research achievements in the field of vat and sulfur dyes and in the lightfastness of dyestuffs, he was unexpectedly appointed to the management of the department in 1931. This was followed only two years later by another surprising career move of major significance: he was transferred to Bayer in Leverkusen, where he became head of the Central Scientific Laboratory. Although Otto Bayer was only 32 years old at the time and the youngest member of the team, he soon succeeded in making a name for himself.

In Leverkusen he was exposed to completely new fields of research, such as rubber chemistry, pharmaceutical research and crop protection. Otto Bayer’s greatest achievement was ultimately the invention of polyurethane chemistry. The principle of polyaddition using diisocyanates is based on his research, yet at first, his closest colleagues were very skeptical. Although the production of macromolecular structures was already a line of research that held promise for the future, Otto Bayer’s basic idea of mixing small volumes of chemical substances together to obtain dry foam materials was seen as unrealistic. But after numerous technical difficulties, Bayer eventually succeeded in synthesizing polyurethane foam. It was to take 10 more years of development work before customized materials could be manufactured on the basis of his invention.

Bayer was a member of the board of directors and of the supervisory board of Bayer, and was also vice chairman of the supervisory board of Cassella in the 1950s.

Bayer received honorary doctoral degrees from six universities as a pioneer in polymer science, and became one of the worlds most renowned chemical chemists.

Bayer was the 1975 recipient of the Charles Goodyear Medal.

Otto Bayer influenced the development of this versatile family of plastics for many years until his death at the age of nearly 80.

Polyurethanes can be found in liquid coatings and paints, tough elastomers such as roller blade wheels, rigid insulation, soft flexible foam, elastic fiber or as an integral skin.

The origin of polyurethane dates back to the beginning of World War II, when it was first developed as a replacement for rubber. The versatility of this new organic polymer and its ability to substitute for scarce materials spurred numerous applications. During World War II, polyurethane coatings were used for the impregnation of paper and the manufacture of mustard gas resistant garments, high-gloss airplane finishes and chemical and corrosion-resistant coatings to protect metal, wood and masonry.

By the end of the war, polyurethane coatings were being manufactured and used on an industrial scale and could be custom formulated for specific applications. By the mid-50’s, polyurethanes could be found in coatings and adhesives, elastomers and rigid foams. It was not until the late-50’s that comfortable cushioning flexible foams were commercially available. With the development of a low-cost polyether polyol, flexible foams opened the door to the upholstery and automotive applications we know today.

Formulations, additives and processing techniques continue to be developed, such as reinforced and structural moldings for exterior automotive parts and one-component systems. Today, polyurethanes can be found in virtually everything we touch—desks, chairs, cars, clothes, footwear, appliances, beds as well as the insulation in our walls and roof and moldings on our homes.