The history of Hydro and aluminum in Germany

  • The aluminum corporation Vereinigte Aluminium-Werke AG (VAW) was founded on April 21, 1917, in Berlin. Its objective was to eliminate Germany's dependency on imports by creating a national aluminum industry. During the third year of the First World War, this light metal was desperately needed in order to make detonators, mess kits, and airplane parts, among other things. In 1917, construction work was already under way on the ‘Erftwerk’ smelting plant (image) in the town of Grevenbroich in the Rhineland.

  • Under the Weimar Republic, the VAW began processing aluminum together with a number of partners: from 1922 onwards, the Rheinische Blattmetall AG (Rebag) rolling mill in Grevenbroich started rolling aluminum foil, and today the site represents the heart of Hydro’s ‘Rolled Products’ arm. The corporation Vereinigten Leichtmetall-Werke (VLW), which was founded in 1927, developed aluminum alloys for aviation. At that time, the aluminum used to make these products was produced by three VAW smelting plants: the ‘Erftwerk’ in Grevenbroich, the ‘Lautawerk’ in Lusatia, and the ‘Innwerk’ in Töging, Bavaria.

  • In 1923, the German Empire pooled its entire portfolio of industrial holdings into the Vereinigte Industrie-Unternehmungen Aktiengesellschaft (VIAG) corporation. In addition to the VAW's aluminum smelting plants, this merger also encompassed a number of power stations. The linking of aluminum and electricity provided good conditions for the development of the aluminum industry. Within only a few years, Germany became the biggest producer of aluminum products in Europe.

  • In 1933, the National Socialists took control of the aluminum industry. Senior Jewish executives at VAW and VIAG were stripped of their posts, and Jewish shareholders in the Rebag foil plant were forced to sell their shares below value to VAW. Aluminum was an important part of the economic planning of the Nazi regime: the ‘German metal’ was used for armaments and basic commodities. VAW expanded its capacity, for example by establishing the ‘Lippewerk’ plant in the Westphalian city of Lünen.

  • Following the occupation of Norway, the Germans began developing the aluminum industry there. They had plans for an enormous industrial empire with power plants, smelting plants, and alumina plants. To this end, they founded specialized companies: Nordische Aluminium AG (Nordag) and Nordisk Lettmetall – a joint venture between Nordag, the company IG Farben, and the Norwegian company Hydro. At the Hydro plant at Herøya, work began on the construction of a large aluminum plant. The work on this Norwegian plant was performed by forced labor, as was the case at the VAW plants in Germany and elsewhere.

  • After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, VAW not only lost its main customer, the arms industry, but also a large proportion of its production capacity. Plants in other countries were conceded, and the ‘Lautawerk’ plant in the Soviet occupation zone was expropriated and decommissioned. The electrolytic furnaces in the other plants also came to a standstill, as any armament-related production was initially prohibited by the Allies.

  • In 1951, the Allies lifted the ban on aluminum production. In the same year, the legal status of VAW was also clarified: the parent company VIAG with its electricity, aluminum, and oxygen divisions would be retained, and would come under the ownership of the West German State. The VIAG subsidiary VAW thus also came fully under public ownership.

  • In 1964, VAW founded the Light Metal Research Institute (LFI) in Bonn, which pooled the research activities of VAW and VLW. Together, scientists developed applications and processes and improved procedures and products. Today, Bonn is the main site of Hydro's international corporate research, and the leading research center of the aluminum industry in Germany.

  • In 1964, VAW founded the Light Metal Research Institute (LFI) in Bonn, which pooled the research activities of VAW and VLW. Together, scientists developed applications and processes and improved procedures and products. Today, Bonn is the main site of Hydro's international corporate research, and the leading research center of the aluminum industry in Germany.

  • In 1975, the city of Hamburg bought the ‘Hamburger Aluminium-Werk’ (HAW) aluminum smelting plant owned by the Reynolds corporation, thereby saving many jobs. VAW took on responsibility for management of the company and obtained a third of the shares. Today, the neighboring hot and cold aluminum rolling plant also belongs to Hydro. The Hamburg rolling plant is one of Hydro Aluminium’s ‘Rolled Products’ sites.

  • In the 1970s and 1980s, the Grevenbroich plant, and in particular the foil area, was massively expanded with ‘Series’ 1 and 2. In addition, from 1985 onwards a production line for manufacturing aluminum for offset printing plates became a key processing area. This business area was extremely successful, and today Hydro is still the global market leader in aluminum for the lithographic industry.

  • In 2002, VAW was taken over by the Norwegian corporation Hydro. This resulted in the creation of a strong aluminum division within Hydro called ‘Hydro Aluminium’ – the largest aluminum group in Europe. Following the acquisition, a process of integration began to align the corporate cultures of the former German state-owned company VAW and the consensus-oriented company Hydro. The headquarters of the German company and, later, Rolled Products was moved to Cologne. In 2009, Rolled Products moved to Grevenbroich.

  • In this year, Hydro’s recycling plant for used drinks can (UBC) in Neuss went into operation. The new plant is able to recycle up to 50,000 tonnes of aluminum cans each year. Hydro invested €45 million to enable the creation of a closed recycling loop. The company focused its efforts on promoting sustainability and environmental protection throughout the production chain, from the energy used right up to the finished product.

  • With its new ‘Automotive Line 3’, representing an investment of €130 million, Hydro has increased its annual capacity for rolled automotive aluminum to 200,000 tonnes. It officially opened in May 2017. This takes Hydro’s total investment in Germany to around €1 billion since 2002.


Updated: April 26, 2017