Company History

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Since 1923, the Ecolab story has been one of innovation, customer service, industry leadership and growth.

Over the years, we have built on our humble beginnings – one man with a simple idea – to become a global company serving customers across a range of industries in more than 160 countries.

It All Began with an Idea

Merritt J. (M.J.) Osborn was a traveling salesman early in his career - a job that acquainted him with a problem he never forgot. While staying at hotels, he saw that guest room carpets were sent out for cleaning. Cleaning could take a week or more – and, while the carpet was away, the hotel closed the room, foregoing revenues. 

Years later, at age 44 and with two sons about ready for college, M.J. was in desperate need of a new business idea. Recalling the problem he'd seen years before, he set about developing a product to clean guest carpets in the rooms. By cleaning the carpet in place in the morning, the room would be ready for guests that evening. 

M.J. called his product Absorbit and, in 1923, he formed a company and called it Economics Laboratory. Its tagline: “Saving time, lightening labor and reducing costs to those we serve.”

M.J. looked from the guest room to the hotel kitchen

Absorbit did not turn into the money-maker M.J. had hoped. But that didn’t stop him. He looked from the hotel room to the hotel kitchen, where electric dish machines were beginning to appear.

M.J. foresaw human dishwashers being displaced by the machines. But at the time, there was a problem: The machines did a poor job of washing dishes, in large part because there were no effective dish machine soaps. 

M.J. saw the opportunity – and he worked to develop a better soap. The result was SOILAX. The earliest formulation of SOILAX may not have delivered perfect results. But it was the best option on the market. It was well received – and it provided the young company with more stable financial footing.  

Early authors of the Ecolab story

M.J. hired his first employee, a young woman by the name of Ida Koran, to assist him with his growing business. And just a few years later, in the late 1920s, his two sons – E.B. and S.A. – joined him in the business after college. 

Ida Koran stayed with the company her entire career and left a remarkable legacy. The Ida C. Koran Foundation continues today to assist Ecolab associates in times of financial hardship.

S.A. Osborn worked for the company for 25 years before following his dream to become a farmer. And M.J.’s second son, E.B., devoted his entire working life to Ecolab, pioneering the company’s industry-leading sales and service force and leading the company as president from 1950 to 1978. Under E.B.’s leadership, the company went public in 1957. 

The Osborns and Ida Koran were the early authors of our story. It is a story continued by thousands of men and women who have devoted their time, energy and creativity to the company, its customers and each other. 

It is a story that the more than 40,000 people of Ecolab continue to write today.