Rethinking Research in the Chemical Industry: Organizational History of Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers (1953‒2020)

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.4467/2543702XSHS.22.020.15986

Keywords:

R&D management, chemical industry, industrial chemistry, science policy, history of science in France, market-driven research

Abstract

Solvay’s Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers (CRA) is one of the oldest active private-sector research centers in industrial chemistry in France. During the seventy years of its existence it collaborated with some of the most significant French and European chemical companies. Established in 1953, the center’s research and development organization around huge discipline-oriented laboratories proved itself remarkably resilient. Not merely reflecting the R&D policy of the company that owned it at a given moment, the evolution of the center’s research organization followed its own particular path. The research priorities in any given moment were always a place of encounter between top-down requirements of the company’s directorship, and bottom-up thematic trajectories. The CRA’s organizational history gives us unique insights into broader tendencies in chemical research in the second half of the 20th century, such as specialization of laboratories, introduction of market-driven research as well as decentralization and multiplication of hierarchies. The case study can be of interest to historians of science, due to the fact that the history of private research centers remains largely understudied, and to science policy scholars who want to understand the interconnectedness of factors that influence the organization of R&D structures in an institution.

References

Archives de l’Institut pour l’histoire de l’aluminium [Institute for History of Aluminum Archives] (Clichy):

Allocution prononcée par M. Fréjacques à l’occasion de l’inauguration du Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers. Dossier 00_13_19938 (Centre de recherches d’Aubervilliers).

CRA Archives (Aubervilliers):

CRA’s activity report for 1954.

Physics laboratory activity report 1956.

Présentation de la société Rhône-Poulenc, dossier 119, box C16.

Projet de nouvelle organisation du Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers, mai 1994, HSE 170/249.

CRA/Revêtements activity report for 1995.

CRA/DI activity report for 1995.

CRA/STP activity report for 1996.

CRA’s organizational charts.

Rhodia, Research and Innovation, box C25.

INTERVIEWS

Interview with Maryvonne Thomas, 27 April 2020.

Interview with Jean-Claude Daniel, 20 April 2020.

Interview with Claude Mordini, 2 June 2020.

Interview with Suzanne Baumeige, 15 May 2020.

Interview with Thierry Le Mercier, 27 July 2020.

STUDIES

Abelshauser, Werner; von Hippel, Wolfgang; Johnson, Jeffrey Allan; Stokes, Raymond G. 2003: German Industry and Global Enterprise. BASF: The History of a Company. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Aggarwal, Vikas; Hsu, David H.; Wu, Andy 2020: Organizing Knowledge Production Teams Within Firms for Innovation. Strategy Science 5(1), pp. 1–16.

Akhilesh, K.B. 2014: R&D Management. New Delhi: Springer.

Anonymous 1954: Le Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers de la Compagnie Pechiney. Hommes & Techniques 120, pp. 859–863.

Anonymous 1962: Ribécourt. Revue d’Entreprise, Pechiney-Saint-Gobain 3, pp. 4–12.

Anonymous 1984: Des produits et des procédés. Le CR 11, pp. 7–8.

Anonymous 1986: Dures, mais fragiles: Les Ceramiques. Le CR 22, pp. 1–3.

Anonymous 1988: La recherche au C.R.A. en 1988. Le CR 34, p. 1.

Argyres, Nicholas S.; Silverman, Brian S. 2004: R&D, Organization Structure, and the Development of Corporate Technological Knowledge. Strategic Management Journal 25(8/9), pp. 929–958.

Bakker, Gerben 2013: Money for nothing: How firms have financed R&D-projects since the Industrial Revolution. Research Policy 42, pp. 1793–1814.

Barral, Etienne 2008: Rhône-Poulenc: des molécules au capital. Paris: Atelier Fol'fer.

Berbain, A. 1960: L’activité de l’usine Vaugoin-La Rochelle. Le Bulletin Pechiney 104, pp. 4–8.

Bertrams, Kenneth; Coupain, Nicolas; Homburg, Ernst 2013: Solvay. History of a multinational family firm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Breysse, Jacques 2014: Du « Chemical Engineering » au « génie des procédés » (1888–1990). Émergence en France d'une science pour l’ingénieur en chimie, Cahiers d’histoire du Cnam 2, pp. 21–58.

Chapman, A. 1991: Market-driven research and emerging technology. Chemical Information 2. Berlin: Springer.

Christensen, Leslie 2015: Creating Cultural Change in an 115-Year-Old R&D Organization. Research-Technology Management 58(3), pp 30–40.

Fonteneau, Virginie 2010: D’un enseignement de chimie pratique et industrielle à une formation d’ingenieur-chimiste: les débuts de l’Institut de Chimie de Paris (1896–1948). [In :] L’industrie chimique en question, eds. N. Stoskopf, and P. Lamard, 53–65. Paris: Editions Picard.

Gignoux, C.J. 1955: Histoire d’une entreprise française. Paris: Hachette.

Graulier, M. 1987: Editorial, Flash Actualités, special edition from 13 March 1987, p. 2. CRA Archives (Aubervilliers).

Gross, Richard 2003: Overview of Trends in Innovation in the Chemical Industry. [In:] Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Reducing the Time from Basic Research to Innovation in the Chemical Sciences: A Workshop Report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US).

Hahn, Roger 1993: L’Anatomie d’une institution scientifique: l’Académie des sciences de Paris, 1666–1803. Paris: Editions des archives contemporaines.

Holl, Jack. 1997: Argonne National Laboratory, 1946–96. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hounshell, David A.; Smith, John Kenly 1988: Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R and D, 1902–1980. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, Leland; Schaffer, Daniel 1994: Oak Ridge National Laboratory: The First Fifty Years. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

Kipping, Matthias 2002: American management consulting companies in western Europe, 1920 to 1990: products, reputation, and relationships. [In:] F. W. Taylor: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, vol. IV, eds. John Cunningham Wood, Michael C. Wood, 270-298. New York: Routledge.

Krasnodębski, Marcin 2018: Beyond Private and Public Research: The Legal and Organizational Reality Behind Industrial Research Institutes in Interwar France. Minerva 56, pp. 333–355.

Le Roux, Muriel 1998 : L’entreprise et la recherche: un siècle de recherche industrielle à Pechiney. Paris: Editions Rive Droite.

Lebard, Daniel, Ottenheimer, Ghislaine 2008 » L’Affaire. L’histoire du plus grand scandale financier français. Paris: Le Seuil.

Paul, Harry 1980: Apollo courts the Vulcans: the applied science institutes in nineteenth-century French science faculties. [In:] The Organization of Science and Technology in France 1808–1914, eds. Robert Fox and George Weisz, pp. 151–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pestre, Dominique 1990 : Louis Néel, Le magnétisme et Grenoble. Récit de la création d’un empire physicien dans la province française 1940–1965. Cahiers pour l'Histoire du CNRS 8.

Reinhardt, Carsten 1998: Basic Research in Industry: Two Case Studies at I.G. Farbenindustrie AG in the 1920s and 1930s. [In:] Determinants in the Evolution of the European Chemical Industry, 1900–1939, eds. Anthony S. Travis, Harm G. Schroter, Ernst Homburg and Peter J.T. Morris. Springer.

Seitz, Frederick 2007: A Selection of Highlights from the History of the National Academy of Sciences. Lanham: University Press of America.

Teissier, Pierre 2014: Une histoire de la chimie du solide: Synthèses, formes, identités. Paris: Hermann.

Tinniswood, Adrian 2019: The Royal Society. London: Head of Zeus Ltd.

Tirpak, Thomas M.; Miller, Roger; Schwartz, Larry; Kashdan, David 2006: R&D Structure in A Changing World. Research-Technology Management 49(5), pp. 19–26.

Van Rooij, Arjan 2007: The Company That Changed Itself: R&D and the Transformations of DSM. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Verg, Erik; Plumpe, Gottfried; Schultheis, Heins 1988: Milestones: the Bayer story 1863 – 1988. Leverkusen: Bayer AG.

Vindt, Gérard 2006: Les hommes de l’aluminium, histoire sociale de Pechiney, 1921–1973. Paris: Editions de l’Atelier.

Voillequin, Baptiste 2010: La catalyse en France (1944–2004): Dynamiques disciplinaires et régimes de production de savoir. Paris: Éditions universitaires européennes.

Wei, Wang 2015/2016: Pechiney et la Chimie française. L’expérience de Pechiney-Saint-Gobain, un exemple de filiale croisée 1961–1969. Revue française d'histoire économique 2015/2–1/2016(4–5), pp. 92–107.

Downloads

Published

26-08-2022

How to Cite

Krasnodębski, M. . (2022). Rethinking Research in the Chemical Industry: Organizational History of Centre de Recherches d’Aubervilliers (1953‒2020). Studia Historiae Scientiarum, 21. https://doi.org/10.4467/2543702XSHS.22.020.15986