Transcription from video completed in June 2012, with interviews conducted in October 2011. Learn more about Kitty Hach-Darrow and additional resources connected to the film.
This is the story of Kitty Hach-Darrow—chemical entrepreneur/marketing trailblazer/mother/pilot.
Chapter 1. An A-Ha for H2O
I grew up in Bucklin, Missouri. My father was a pilot.
And that was when I had my first airplane ride at the age of five. And I knew I was going to be a pilot. It was thrilling. I loved it. I loved flying. And I still do.
When I was born in 1922 and that was the time of the Roaring 20s, and bathtub gin, and all those kinds of things of which we didn’t have at our house because my mother was WCTU. WCTU—Women’s Christian Temperance Union. And by “temperance” they meant nothing. (laughs)
It was an exciting time. My father said it was the only time you could really make money as an automobile dealer. People had money, and they paid cash. There wasn’t a trade-in, and there were no problems.
1929 came along, and the things that are most vivid in my mind is living the Great Depression.
Families nationwide lost nearly everything in the crash, and Kitty’s was no exception. Among other things her father lost his business and had to sell his beloved airplane.
He came out of the automobile industry without having to take bankruptcy but pretty well broke, cashed in his insurance, and we bought the farm down in Triplit, Missouri. And from then on I was a farm kid.
I would say he [my father] adjusted poorly and slowly. It was not really the life that he wanted.
What with my mother being a schoolteacher, I always hoped that I would be able to go to college. And of course with the Depression, those were dreadful concerns.
My mother felt that the finest thing that a young woman could do was to be a home-demonstration agent. And so I was to major in home economics.
I graduated pretty well from high school. And I got a small scholarship, and then I raised turkeys. I had to herd them around. I herded them around with bamboo poles because, boy, turkeys are crazy. But then my mother had to finish them up. But, gosh, I got 700 dollars out of it. That was how I got started in going to college.
Kitty enrolled in Iowa State University in 1940 to become a home-economics teacher but was quickly inspired by a chemist in the department who guided many young women into chemical professions.
Soon after, Kitty met another inspiring figure who would dramatically impact her future.
Chapter 2. Personal Chemistry
He had dark hair, and it was kind of curly and it was kind of unruly. And, um, I knew he was different.
I think that the most important thing to say about Cliff was that he wanted to be a scientist. And I knew he was in love with chemistry. Good grief, yes.
Cliff and I were students at Iowa State. We met, we liked each other, and pretty soon we were dating. Now the only thing that was wrong with having a date with Cliff Hach was all he wanted to talk about was chemistry.
One night he came to pick me up for a date at the house where I was living, and he came in with this little box. And it was all wrapped up, and I thought it was a little box of chocolates; so I said “Thank you.” And he said, “No, no, no. Open it up! Open it up!”
And so I opened it up and there it was. A book. And it was a book by Dr. Otto Eisenschiml on the building of the Sun Chemical Company.
But there were two things about it that I noticed. It had kind of a subtitle: “A chemical career and a business opportunity.” That really convinced me [what] this man really had in mind; he wanted to build a chemical company. But he also said, “But I want you to read that because Dr. Eisenschiml said that Mrs. Eisenschiml was very important in the building of the company.”
And number two, I thought I heard a left-hand proposal of marriage. And you know, by golly, I was right. (smiles)
And he graduated, and then there were no jobs, kinda like it is today. No jobs. And, but, he did finally get a part-time job analyzing water at a filtration company in Ames, Iowa. He learned everything about a water-treatment plant. But he came back to our apartment, and he said, “You know, the guys are just great. It’s fun. But he said, you know? They don’t have any chemistry!”
He said, “They’re adding treatment, but they add it by weight.” And he said, “There’s no chemistry down there.” He realized, “This has to be simplified in some way.” And I’m going to say to you, that was the birth of the idea of simplified analysis.
First of all you got to get rid of these solutions: they freeze, they’re heavy to ship. How are you going to get them around? The guys can’t do ’em.
It would be powdered formulas.
Chapter 3. Revolutionary Reagents
You know, if you’re going to start a chemical company, you only get one guess as to what it is that you need. And it’s called money! And we didn’t have any.
The Walter Kidde fire extinguisher company needed equipment to generate a continuous flow of carbon dioxide and appealed to researchers at Iowa State for their innovation.
Cliff took one look at it, and he took a try. He got his mechanism up and running, and it was generating carbon dioxide. He contacted the Walter Kidde Company, and they sent out a patent attorney who had a background in chemistry. And he took a look at it, and he said, “Well, it’s very interesting. It’s clever. It’s patentable.”
But he said, “I’ll tell you what, Cliff. If you’ll sign off on the patent, we’ll get the patent, and then we’ll pay you—$15,000.” And I can tell you, it was the biggest chunk of money we ever saw in our lives. And we knew the chemical company would get started.
Well, it was a cement-block building. I know that it was 45 feet long because each room was 15 feet, and I think it cost about $1,700 out of that $15,000.
And then later on we matched that [building] on the other side, and a part of it was the plant and the back part was our apartment where we lived for a long time.
Cliff had a wonderful sense of humor, and we had a lovely family—a daughter and two boys. But it turned out that the daughter and the first boy were rather close together. And Cliff used to tell the story that “Kitty and I were working like everything just to keep the wolf away from the door and the stork kept coming in the window!”
Okay, I’m Bruce Hach, and I am the, I’m the middle son.
It did seem a little bit unusual to have a small three-bedroom apartment, and then right next door was the chemistry lab.
So there was some smell, there was some smell: the ventilation rules were loose at that particular time. But that’s all I knew, so it seemed okay to me.
The Hachs pioneered a new marketing tool for their fledgling business: selling chemistry by direct mail. Kitty helmed the business using her entrepreneurial instincts, her infectious charm, and a remarkably useful piece of equipment: her airplane.
This was my responsibility then, was building a mailing list. We started with all the municipalities. Back in those days the postal system was entirely different, and we would address it to CHIEF CHEMIST, MUNICIPAL WATER TREATMENT PLANT, AMES, IOWA, [or] LOVELAND, COLORADO, whatever it was. And you just put it in the mail, and away it went.
As the company grew, I did a lot of flying. I flew people around to shows; we flew a lot. The company had an airplane, a small Citation jet. Well, it was a tool of industry. An airplane was certainly very important in my life.
Many of the waters in chemical analysis are absolutely beautiful when you have the test run. It’s a beautiful yellow; 2,2 bipyridine for iron is a beautiful lavender color. And we put those pictures on postcards, and on the backside we put the procedure and the price and we mailed them out. And the orders started coming in, and we were in business.
Hach [Company], originally we probably really then catered toward that middle-sized drinking-water plant. The town of 100,000 or less that would not have a staff that could actually operate standard procedures, could not make their own reagents.
We started with the municipal water-treatment plant, and then there’d be the waste-treatment plant. But industry, every industry uses water.
The EPA came along and said, “Thou shall analyze the water coming in and thou shall analyze the water going out.”
We really were the first to actually premanufacture the reagents. So we actually put together all of the equipment and processes that were needed to do the test. And really, no one else was doing that. It was an important tool to be able to tweak your system to almost purify the water.
Hach Chemical was instrumental in standardizing water-purification tests and pioneered many world-standard instruments. Their tests were designed to be simple and effective, with nontechnical directions that were most appealing to nonchemists at the water plants.
For Clifford, chemistry was everything. He had a little saying [that] was that there are three ways to do everything. Mechanically, electrically, or chemically.
And he has said, “Chemistry is the very best way.”
Cliff’s best talent was invention. It was physical, bench chemistry, chemical reagent development. All of the various experiments—via the scientific method—of trying to really expand the capability of a chemical reagent. And he was able to do that.
Kitty’s best talent? Managing the ambitious growth of a successful national company, traveling extensively, and being a loving and caring mother.
I know some have asked “How about the entrepreneurial spirit?” and I’m going to say in the entrepreneurial spirit there are risks. And I don’t mean there are money risks. There are other risks.
And I feel that Clifford so devoted himself to the building of the Hach Chemical Company that he missed out on three beautiful children, and that’s something that bothers me to this day.
I think probably there was a degree of sympathy. I think everybody realized that if the business is going to, is ever going to succeed, it’s going to require a level of dedication, and a level of austerity. And it’s a little bit of an unusual, um, life plan.
But I think people kind of recognized that this was a noble experiment. It was a noble effort.
I would say if we brought anything to the field of chemistry that was special, it was better water through better chemistry.
I hope that history will look very fondly upon what has happened with the quality of water, and the water-analysis procedures from the Hach Chemical Company are a part of that advancement that is going on right now.
I think it’s very easy to think of water analysis as a very mundane subject. I couldn’t disagree more. I think that water analysis is a very exciting subject because the water that we have on this planet is all that we have. It needs to be cared for.
About 70 percent of our nation’s municipalities use the Hach Company’s game-changing instrumentation that can detect impurities in water at the parts-per-billion level. Hach’s products ship worldwide every day with sales close to $2 billion.
In 1998 Kitty was nominated for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. A year later she sold her company for $355 million.
In 2010 Kitty helped Iowa State University unveil Hach Hall, a state-of-the-art chemistry building in honor of Cliff and the entire Hach family.
Kitty lives in Loveland and enjoys a weekly golf game with her son Bruce.