Birthday: September 23, 1900
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Fred Chase Koch
Born Country: United States
Born in: Quanah, Texas, United States
Famous as: Chemical Engineer, Entrepreneur
Spouse/Ex-: Mary Robinson
father: Harry Koch
mother: Mattie B. Mixson
children: Charles G. Koch, David H. Koch, Frederick R. Koch, William I. Koch
Died on: November 17, 1967
U.S. State: Texas
Founder/Co-Founder: Founder of Koch Industries; Co-founder of John Birch Society
education: Rice University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1922)
Fred C Koch was an American chemical engineer and entrepreneur who built what is now known as ‘Koch Industries,’ a business empire that was described by ‘Forbes’ as “the world’s largest private company.” With a desire and ambition for power and money, this small-town genius developed an oil-extraction technology, which positioned him at the helm of the oil industry at a time when economic development was synonymous with oil reserves. During the Great Depression, when the American people had lost everything, ‘Koch-Winkler’ was one of those companies that made millions from their oil contracts with Russia. In fact, when people were starving and queuing up for bread in the dead of winter, Koch commissioned the construction of his mansion in Wichita, Kansas. In a book titled ‘Dark Money’ (2016), writer Jane Mayer revealed how Koch built his empire with the money that came from two of history’s most infamous dictators, Stalin and Hitler. Koch aided both the regimes by building oil refineries based on a more efficient technology developed by him. He built the third-largest refinery for Hitler’s regime, which helped in refueling warplanes. Currently, ‘Koch Industries’ is worth $100 billion.
Childhood & Early Life
Fred Chase Koch was born on September 23, 1900, in Quanah, Texas, to Mattie B and a Dutch immigrant father, Harry Koch, who had arrived in America in 1888. Koch’s father was a printer by profession. Shortly after arriving in Quanah, he bought the local cash-strapped newspaper ‘The Tribune-Chief.’
Since an early age, Koch wanted to live away from the shadow of his overbearing father. According to the Koch family anecdotes, he had run away from home to live with the Comanche tribe when he was just a boy.
The Koch family’s finances were perhaps more than sufficient, as young Fred could afford a private education at the prestigious ‘Rice Institute’ (now known as ‘Rice University’) in Houston, Texas, where he studied from 1917 to 1919.
Koch’s wish to stay elsewhere came true when he joined the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was part of the boxing team. He graduated with a BS degree in chemical engineering in 1922.
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Koch started his career as a chemical engineer for the ‘Texas Company’ in Port Arthur, Texas. After a brief period of employment with them, Koch got an opportunity with the ‘Medway Oil and Storage Company Limited,’ as their chief engineer at the Isle of Grain, in Kent, England. He worked with ‘Medway’ for a year before returning to the US to establish his own company in association with PC Keith and LE Winkler, two of his old mates from ‘MIT.’ The company was called the ‘Keith-Winkler-Koch Engineering Company.’
In 1926, PC Keith left the company. It was renamed ‘Winkler-Koch Engineering Company.’ It developed a groundbreaking thermal cracking technology to extract petroleum from crude oil in a more effective and efficient way.
In 1927, after people came to know that an outsider (‘Winkler-Koch’) could revolutionize the oil-extraction process with their new technology, the oil giants of America collectively attacked the company with 44 lawsuits. Lewis Winkler’s former employer, ‘Universal Oil Products’ (now ‘UOP LLC’), sued the company for patent infringement in 1929, almost 3 years before the hearing began. However, Koch knew his technology had an international appeal. While fighting several lawsuits at home, ‘Winkler-Koch’ took their business to the Soviet Union.
The Russians had seen Koch at work when he helped build a refinery in England during World War I. Russia supplied fuel to the Great Britain at that time. Initially, Koch was reluctant to help Stalin’s regime in building refineries. He did not trust the communists would pay him for his services. Only after an advance payment and an agreement with the Soviet government did he help them in setting up 15 refineries in the 1930s, which was the first phase of Stalin’s 5-year-plan.
These refineries became the foundation of the Russian oil industry. It brought a lot of hard cash into the country, helping them in modernizing and developing other industries. Koch was handsomely paid (estimated $500,000) even as the rest of America was reeling with the Great Depression. By 1932, Koch had experienced the distasteful ways of the Stalin regime and had developed an aversion toward communism.
Koch came back to the US in the mid-1930s. It is believed, in 1933, after Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, Koch helped the Third Reich in building a massive refinery in Hamburg. In association with William Rhodes Davis, a known ‘Nazi’ sympathizer, ‘Winkler-Koch’ oversaw the construction of the refinery. Though ‘Koch Industries’ has excluded this part of their growth from their official company history, there is historical evidence of Koch’s frequent travels to Germany during the late 1930s. It is also said that the Hamburg refinery was commissioned by Hitler himself.
Koch remained the president of the ‘Winkler-Koch Engineering Company’ until 1941, when he established the ‘Koch Engineering Company.’ He served as the president of the ‘Koch Engineering Company’ from 1943 to 1959. In 1940, he joined hands with new partners and established the ‘Wood River Oil and Refining Company’ in East St. Louis, Illinois. He founded ‘Koch Oil Corporation’ in 1943 and served as its president until 1959. In 1946, he acquired the ‘Rock Island Oil and Refining Company’ in Oklahoma.
After fighting corporate lawsuits for 15 years, Koch won a settlement of $1.5 million. Since the beginning of the legal fight, Koch suspected his opponents of wrongdoing. It was later found out that the only lawsuit that Koch did not win involved a corrupt judge who was bribed by the American oil companies. The judgment was revoked later.
Family & Personal Life
Koch’s addiction to power and status affected his personal life. In 1932, he married Mary Clementine Robinson, who belonged to an affluent family. Mary’s father was a notable physician in Kansas City and had founded the ‘University of Kansas School of Medicine.’ Her mother’s paternal and maternal grandfathers, William Ingraham Kip and William Burnet Kinney, were notable personalities. William Ingraham Kip was the Episcopal missionary bishop to California, and William Burnet Kinney was the ambassador to Italy.
Koch and Mary had four sons. Their first child, Frederick, was born in 1933. Charles was born in 1935. The twins, David and William, were born in 1940.
Till the 1960s, none of his four sons showed any interest in joining the company. Koch had to issue an ultimatum to his second son, Charles, who was most likely to succeed him, since he was educated at the ‘MIT,’ just like his father. Koch told his sons that if they did not join his business, he would be compelled to sell it off to external parties.
Koch’s son Charles joined his firm in 1961, and by 1967, he had become the president. Fred C Koch passed away on November 17, 1967. Upon his demise, Charles took over the company as the chairman and the chief executive officer. He renamed the company, and it is now known as ‘Koch Industries.’
It is rumored that during his frequent visits to Germany, Fred Koch was supposed to be on the fatal May 1937 transatlantic flight of the Hindenburg. However, he had never boarded the flight due to a delay in his schedule.