Hercules (NYSE: HPC) is a manufacturer and marketer of specialty chemicals and related services for a range of business, consumer, and industrial applications.
Hercules accumulated a war chest and set out to reinvent itself. It was a bidder for National Starch when Unilever decided to sell. (ICI won the bidding). Later it acquired Betz-Dearborn, but at a price that nearly drove it into bankruptcy. Betz-Dearborn was sold to General Electric.
The rest of Hercules, primarily its specialty chemicals business based on thickeners like carboxymethyl cellulose and hydroxypropyl cellulose, was acquired by Ashland Chemicals.
Hercules was founded as an explosives manufacturer headquartered in Wilmington, DE, when the justice department forced a breakup of Dupont under antitrust laws. The third component was Atlas Powder, which later became part of ICI. At one time it became a leading producer of polypropylene and terephthalic acid, a raw material for polyesters, but was caught by rising oil prices for raw materials in the 1970s. The company gradually declined thereafter. The rosin and tall oil fatty acid business acquired after World War I was sold to Eastman Chemical in 2001.
Book: “Labor of a Modern Hercules: Evolution of a Chemical Company,” by Davis Dyer and David B. Sicilia, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1990. See the review on Motley Fool's Books--Non-fiction discussion board.