T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S
Unifipo was founded on 15 October 1928. In December, Banque Franco-Polonaise bought a 2 million Belgian franc stake in the company. Unifipo began to acquire stakes in a number of Polish companies Société Polono-Belge d Imprégnation des Bois (wood processing), in which BBE was also a shareholder, Glaces du Midi de la Russie (glass-making), and Bezet, which made electrical equipment and worked in conjunction with the Belgian electrical equipment manufacturer ACEC. The new company also invested in Cegielski, a Poznan- based company specialising in building locomotives, agricultural machinery and boilers, which also cooperated with Belgian steel giant Cockerill. On several occasions Unifipo made dollar advances to Cegielski.
A short time after Unifipo was founded, a new venture was put forward by Belgian firm UCB, a company specialising in industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals in which Société Générale de Belgique and the Solvay Group had invested heavily. Discussions with the Polish Embassy in Brussels had revealed the potential for UCB to help increase the produc- tion of superphosphates (advanced fertilisers) in Poland. Polish plants producing super- phosphates had a capacity of around 600,000 tons a year, but were in fact producing only half this amount due to a shortage of the sulphuric acid required to make superphosphates.
In late 1928, Theunis went to Warsaw wearing the twin hats of Chairman of Unifipo and Chairman of UCB and met the President of the Polish Republic, Professor Ignacy Mościcki. A highly-reputed chemist, Mościcki was also Chairman of the State Nitrogen Compounds Factory at Chorzów, near Katowice. He told Theunis that the government would look very favourably on Unifipo if the new company would make up for the lack of Polish capital avail- able to develop the chemicals industry in Poland. Among other things, the Ministry of War would be keen to purchase oleum (fuming sulphuric acid) for the army s needs, not least as this would free the Polish military from its dependence on German-produced oleum.
Convinced that there was potential to develop sulphuric acid production in Poland, Theunis put the idea to the Unifipo Board. A decision was taken to create two firms almost simultaneously: Polindus, a company established under Belgian law, and Polchem, under Polish law.
As soon as Polchem was up and running, the company began construction of a sulphuric acid plant with a capacity of 12,000 tons per year in Torun, on the Vistula in northern Poland. This plant was the first in the country to produce concentrated sulphuric acid using the contact process . Some of the concentrated acid was sold to such companies as the artificial silk (rayon) factories in Tomaszów, the remainder being used by the company itself in the production of calcium superphosphate.
Despite the world economic slump, acid production continued to increase, reaching 17,500 tons by 1937. Polchem diversified its output, embarking in succession on production of sodium sulphite, sodium bisulphite, and galalith, one of the earliest plastics. In 1939, the factory employed 140 workers, rising to around 250 during seasonal shipments of superphosphates.