Ashland Global Specialty Chemicals Inc. is an American chemical company which operates in more than 100 countries. Headquartered in Covington, Kentucky, the company traces its roots back to the city of Ashland, Kentucky, where it was headquartered from 1924 to 1999. The company currently has five wholly owned divisions, which include Chemical Intermediates and Solvents, Composites, Industrial Specialties, Personal and Home Care, & Pharmaceuticals, Food and Beverage, and Agriculture. Until 2017, the company was the primary manufacturer of Valvoline.
In October 1923, J. Fred Miles of the Swiss Oil Company of Lexington, Kentucky. employed Paul G. Blazer and assigned him the task of locating, purchasing and operating a refinery in northeastern Kentucky. Mr. Blazer selected a location on the banks of the Big Sandy River approximately two miles south of the Ohio River near the community of Leach Station. One mile south of the city of Catlettsburg, the site contained an existing refinery which was purchased by Blazer which had been in operation since 1916. The Catlettsburg site was advantageous due to its location near the Ohio River and offered an efficient means of transportation for the fledgling company. With funds supplied by Swiss Oil, Blazer arranged to buy, at a price of $212,500, the small unprofitable 1,000 barrel per day refinery of Great Eastern Refining Company which had been owned by coal operators in Huntington, West Virginia. With the purchase of the refinery came a small towboat and oil barge.
On February 2, 1924, Blazer and three Swiss Oil executives incorporated Ashland Refining Company, with a paid in capital of $250,000. They took over the operations of the Catlettsburg Refinery which had twenty-five employees who were working seven days per week and twelve hours per day. Blazer moved from Lexington to Ashland. The only member of the Swiss Oil organization to come to Ashland with Blazer was Ashland Refining Company's first treasurer, William Waples.
Ashland's refinery operations in Catlettsburg proved to be successful even from the very first month. Wages were increased and the hours of work were reduced. After making repairs and purchasing some new, modern equipment, the refinery soon had output of 500,000 barrels a year and sales of $1,300,000. In only a few years, the Ashland Refining Company began to show larger returns than the parent company. Ashland Refining Co. grew rapidly through both internal expansion and acquisitions including Union Gas and Oil Company (1925), Tri-State Refining Company (1930), and Cumberland Pipeline Company (1931).
By 1933, Ashland Refining Company owned more than 1,000 wells, 800 miles of pipelines, bulk distribution plants in twelve cities, service stations, river transportation terminals and river equipment. In 1936, under Blazer's leadership, the company's ownership changed from Swiss Oil to the Ashland Oil and Refining Company shareholder group and was headquartered in Ashland, Kentucky. Blazer was appointed chief executive officer of the company.
Blazer's success as manager was recognized by major stockholders. They gave him the power to run Ashland as his own operation, though at no point during his tenure as chief executive officer (1936–1957) did he own a controlling interest in the company.
Blazer's philosophy of supporting the well-being of company employees was evident early on. Two of his early changes were offering employees' sick leave with full pay, and in 1947 the introduction of an employee profit-sharing plan. This move made the company one of the first in the region to offer such benefits. Blazer supported creative arts and invited nearby Greenup County educator and internationally acclaimed author Jesse Stuart to open each annual meeting with a story, a poem, or a bit of humor. He also was a pastor at his local church.
After the end of World War II, Ashland teamed with Sperry Corporation to develop the introduction of radar on commercial river vessels and teamed with various shipyards to develop the integrated tow. The "jumbo" tank barge of 195 ft. by 35 ft. became the industry standard and was used by Ashland. Under Blazer's control, the company grew to become a Forbes 500 company by relying on barges to bring in crude oil and deliver refined products to independent marketers. In the process, Ashland soon operated the nation's largest inland towing fleet and in 1953 the Port of Huntington-Tristate exceeded Pittsburgh as the busiest port on the Ohio River and the busiest inland port in the United States, a title it retains to date.
Ashland Oil & Refining Company also grew through many acquisitions such as the Allied Oil Company (1948), Cleveland and Lakeland Tankers (1948), Aetna Oil Company (1949), Freedom-Valvoline Company (1950), Frontier Oil of Buffalo (1950) and National Refining Company (1950).
By 1953, Ashland Oil and Refining Company had 3,518 miles of crude oil pipelines, 252 miles of product lines, six refineries processing an average of 124,000 barrels a day, operated nine tow boats on the inland waterways, and owned over 100 barges. Although still involved as chairman of Ashland's Finance Committee and Executive Committee, Blazer stepped down as chief executive officer in 1957.
Louisville Refining Company was purchased in 1959. United Carbon was purchased in 1963.
In 1966, Ashland Oil and Refinery Company Inc.'s sales had grown to $699,000,000.
Diversification continued with the purchase of Warren Brothers in 1966, which later was to become Ashland Paving and Construction. A major leap into the chemical industry occurred in 1967 when Ashland purchased ADM Chemical Group. This chemical distribution segment of the business would go on to be one of the primary functions of the company in the later part of the 20th century. In 1969, the company reorganized to form Ashland Petroleum, as well as entering into a joint venture in Coal mining under the name Arch Mineral.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Ashland continued to expand buying The Permian Corporation which it merged with Scurlock Oil Company in 1991 to form a subsidiary known as Scurlock Permian Corporation. In 1992, most of Unocal's chemical distribution business was acquired, making Ashland the top chemical distributor in North America. At this time, the Industrial Chemicals & Solvents (IC&S) division was established. The company's name was changed from "Ashland Oil, Incorporated" to the present "Ashland Inc." in 1995, which noted the reduced importance of oil in the overall business.
In 1998, the petroleum division merged with Marathon Oil to form Marathon Ashland Petroleum, LLC (MAP). Following that in 1999, Ashland was #102 on the Forbes list of Fortune 500 companies when it agreed to sell its Scurlock Permian subsidiary to Plains All American Pipeline and the headquarters were moved from Ashland to Covington, Kentucky, although the company maintains an officebuilding in Russell, adjacent to Ashland. A monumental change came in 2005, when Ashland sold its shares of the petroleum joint venture to Marathon Oil, effectively dissolving the remnants of their petroleum division. After the sale, the company was no longer involved in the refining or marketing of fuels. The original oil refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, is still in operation to date, owned and operated by Marathon. In 2006, Ashland sold APAC (the paving and construction division) to the Oldcastle Materials subsidiary of Oldcastle Inc. of Dublin, Ireland.
In July 2010 Ashland merged its foundry chemicals activity with Süd-Chemie of Munich, Germany, to form ASK Chemicals L.P. with headquarters in Dublin, Ohio.
In November 2010 Ashland announced plans to sell its distribution business known as Ashland Distribution to TPG Capital for $930 Million. The Ashland Distribution business had been a part of Ashland since 1969. With revenues of $3.4 billion, the Ashland Distribution business had approximately 2,000 employees across North America and Europe, and entered the China plastics market in 2009. The sale was finalized April 1, 2011, with a final sale price of US$979 million. The new privately held company is named Nexeo Solutions.
In May 2011 Ashland announced that it had bought the privately owned company International Specialty Products Inc. (ISP) for $3.2 billion. ISP is a supplier of specialty chemicals and performance-enhancing products for consumer and industrial markets.
In 2014, Ashland Water Technologies was sold to a private equity buyer.
In May 2017, Ashland successfully separated its Valvoline business, the final step of reorganizing itself as a global specialty chemicals company.