First Person: Kathryn Hach-Darrow

Kathryn Hach-Darrow at CHF's governance meetings, August 2004. CHF Collections.

The marriage of Kathryn Darrow and Clifford Hach was rooted in business:

I had a date with Clifford Hach. He came up to the door and had a nice little package all wrapped up for me. I thought, “It’s a box of candy.” He gave me the package, I opened it up, and there was a book for me to read by Dr. Otto Eisenschiml - Without Fame: The Romance of a Profession. Cliff said, “I want you to read this because we’re going to build a chemical company.” His ambition was already very clear, even back in those days.

In 1947, four years after their wedding, the two founded a small reagent company that would become the Hach Company, a leader in water purification instrumentation.

Clifford’s research as a student at the University of Iowa had led to a patent, which he sold for $15,000. That money led to the startup that would become the Hach Company. Clifford was the president and Kathryn vice president. While Clifford had the chemical training, it was Kathryn who spearheaded marketing and business operations. But neither Clifford nor Kathryn had any business experience, so they were truly learning on the fly as they pursued business leads, created innovative products, and made a name for themselves as the provider of the world’s finest and simplest water-testing instruments. In the early years of the company, profits were slim. In her oral history Kathryn recalls, “The first year, sales were about $6,000. Sales not profit. The next year it was $5,500. I said, ‘Cliff, we’re going in the wrong direction. This is not a business. We need something else.'”

That something else was EDTA, a chemical that could be utilized in a titration method to determine water hardness. This was the first commercial success of the Hach Company, and would propel the company into the water analysis business. The company was also able to take advantage of a new, growing industry: home water softeners. As Kathryn explains, “Housewives needed a water softener. This industry was very important to the growth of Hach because we were the only people that had a good test, and business was great. The home water softener business became a big business.”

In the next decades, the Hach Company would expand its offerings considerably. “Water is everywhere,” Kathryn points out simply in her history. The company became renowned for the quality of its instrumentation and reagents, as well as the ease of its manufactured water purity tests. And Clifford Hach’s prediction about his marriage and career proved beyond successful.

Sarah Hunter is a program associate in oral history at CHF. "First Person,” which highlights one of CHF's over 400 oral histories, appears the third Tuesday of every month.

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Posted In: History | Technology

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