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More than glue: a history of adhesives

The story of sticking things together begins a long time ago. The first glue can be traced back 200,000 years, when early humans made adhesives from birch tree sap. From generation to generation, new glues were tested and improved – including adhesives based on plants and minerals, as well as sticky substances made from the bones of animals and fish.

Today, glues don’t just stick things together. They keep food fresh and cell phones cool. They enable lighter cars and sustainable skyscrapers. And they bring creative craft ideas to life.

Modern adhesives also open up ways to save resources, cut emissions, promote recycling and keep people safe. That’s why glue doesn’t just have a long past. It also has a big role to play in building a better future.

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We innovate with partners across industries to create solutions for the world’s biggest challenges – like climate change, resource scarcity and the need to keep people healthy.

A century of solving challenges

Glue has been sticking things together for over 200,000 years – but modern adhesives do much more than that. Innovators have revolutionized these technologies during the last 100 years. In 1923, Henkel started selling glues based on potato flour. By the 1950s, our researchers had created a portfolio of almost 1,000 specialized adhesives for an incredible range of uses.



Henkel began to produce its own adhesive in 1922 in case a long-time supplier for Henkel in Hanover couldn’t deliver any more, due to the Allies’ occupation in the Rhine and Ruhr regions at the time. One year later, the company started selling potato-based glues from the brands Mala and Tapa.

Henkel began to produce its own adhesive in 1922 in case a long-time supplier for Henkel in Hanover couldn’t deliver any more, due to the Allies’ occupation in the Rhine and Ruhr regions at the time. One year later, the company started selling potato-based glues from the brands Mala and Tapa. 


That portfolio accelerated the transformation of daily life in the 1960s. Urbanization and refrigeration generated a booming market for convenient packaged food. In 1960, Technomelt adhesives for packaging made it possible to keep food fresh and safe for longer. Technomelt Cool adhesives also save energy and cut emissions because they set at a much lower temperature than typical packaging glues.

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Adhesives have the answer

During the 80s and 90s, people became increasingly aware of environmental and social challenges – and adhesives offered solutions. In 1988, for example, Loctite Purbond made it possible for builders to use wood instead of concrete. Henkel played a pioneering role in eliminating toluene from adhesives, which can be misused as an intoxicant. And the famous Pritt glue sticks switched from oil-based ingredients to formulas based on potato starch.

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Smart tech with clever glues

When digitalization transformed the world in the 2000s, glue scientists quickly developed innovations for computers and smart gadgets. This includes special adhesives that transport heat away from components and batteries to keep devices cool – and keep users safe. These materials are also enabling carmakers to develop and produce high-performance electric vehicles more efficiently and sustainably.



Powerful adhesives, sealants and functional coatings make a modern car up to 15 percent lighter than before. Their importance will grow even further in future generations of hybrid and electric vehicles, because these materials enable advanced lightweight construction concepts for batteries, car bodies and powertrain systems.

Powerful adhesives, sealants and functional coatings make a modern car up to 15 percent lighter than before. Their importance will grow even further in future generations of hybrid and electric vehicles, because these materials enable advanced lightweight construction concepts for batteries, car bodies and powertrain systems.

Strong past, sustainable future

Glues have shaped the past. Now, they’re shaping the future. The shift to lighter cars that produce less emissions is being supported by the increased use of adhesives and functional coatings. Meanwhile, bio-based glues made of plants instead of fossil materials are boosting sustainability across industries. Throughout human history, adhesives have helped to solve key social and environmental challenges. And the next chapters in the story could be the most important yet.

Explore the history of Adhesive Technologies

Henkel_Timeline_Zeitstrahl
1922

Henkel began to produce adhesives

Henkel makes glue for the first time – because of a shortage of adhesives needed to close packaging for its products. One year later, the company starts selling potato-based glues from the brands Mala and Tapa.

1927 Klebstoffwerk
1929

The advance of adhesives

The cold-water-soluble glue Mala Henkel-Leim kaltwasserlöslich is launched. Its formula eliminates the need to heat up water, which cuts energy consumption and related emissions.

1929 Mala
1969

The world’s first glue stick

The famous Pritt glue stick hits the shelves for the first time. Its packaging is based on the easy-to-use twist mechanism from lipstick applicators, and the glue is solvent-free.

1969 Pritt
1975

Sustainable innovation in food packaging

Henkel launches Liofol UK 7500, the first generation of solvent-free polyurethane adhesives for food packaging.

1977 Liofol
1988

Paving the way to modern high-tech timber construction

Loctite Purbond adhesives enable builders to use construction materials made of wood. These renewable materials can replace concrete, which generates a lot of emissions when it is produced.

1988 innovation and research
1993

Evolution of the Pritt glue stick

Pritt sticks switch from oil-based ingredients to formulas based on potato starch. In 2021, the newest Pritt stick generation consists of 97 percent biobased material and its container is made up of up to 65 percent post-industrial recycled plastic.

1988 Mitarbeiter
1998 Klebstoffe
1998

Adhesives free from toluene

Henkel wins the national health award from the Chilean government in recognition of its pioneering adhesives that are free from toluene – which can be misused as an intoxicant.

2000
2000 Universal Kleber

Reducing waste thanks to a dosing system

The Loctite Control dosing system for universal glue is launched. Dispensing buttons on the side of the bottle make the glue easier to use and help to reduce waste.

2001 Plastic labeling
2001

Debond labels from products

Henkel releases Technomelt EM 325-21, which enables the debonding of labels from PET plastic bottles. This improves the recyclability rate and quality of the recyclable material, since more than 98 percent of the adhesive is removed from the bottle.

2010 Pritt Roller
2010

Biomaterial Award

ECOmfort correction rollers made of 89% natural plastic win the "Biomaterial Award" at the Hannover Messe 2010.

2016 LASD
2017

Enabling lightweight automobiles

Henkel wins the Rheinisch Innovation Prize for the development of a new polyurethane resin that enabled the launch of a fiber-reinforced composite leaf spring in automotive lightweight construction.

2019 Thermal interface
2019

Heat management in e-mobility

Henkel presents its new technologies that enable cost-efficient large-scale assembly and lifetime protection of electric vehicle battery architectures. These solutions include thermal interface gap-fillers and adhesives, which ensure safe and efficient thermal management of the battery cells and modules.

2020 EPIX
2020

Enhancing the recyclability of disposable products

The EPIX product technology platform is introduced to the European market and offers consumers viable paper alternatives to plastics and other single-use materials for food and non-food items – from padded mailers to paper cups and food trays.

2021 Adhesive draft
2021

Renewable, plant-based ingredients

Henkel develops the world’s first bio-based polyurethane hot melt adhesive for assembling electronic devices. The Loctite technology is made of 60 percent renewable, plant-based ingredients.