Fred Chase Koch was a successful engineer and industrialist and a founder of the John Birch Society. He is the father of billionaires and conservative political activists, Charles and David Koch.
“Fred C. Koch is the founder of a number of businesses, including engineering firms and gasoline refineries, which have evolved into what is now Koch Industries, the largest private corporation in the United States, with close to $100 billion in revenues and employing 80,000 employees.
Fred Koch was born in Quanah, Texas on September 23, 1900. He was the son of a Dutch immigrant, Harry Koch, who had arrived in the United States in 1888. Harry Koch was a printer by trade, and some time after his arrival in Quanah, he purchased the struggling and financially strapped local newspaper, “The Tribune-Chief”, and Koch became its publisher and its printer. Apparently the family was reasonably well off, because Fred Koch was able to attend a private and prestigious college, the Rice Institute, now known as Rice University, in Houston, Texas. He was at Rice from 1917 to 1919, and then transferred to an even more prestigious school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from MIT in 1922 with a B. S. degree in chemical engineering.
Following graduation, Koch went to work, as a chemical engineer, for the Texas Company in Fort Arthur, Texas. After some time at the Texas Company, he was offered a position as Chief Engineer with the Medway Oil and Storage Company, Limited, located at the Isle of Grain, in Kent, England. He returned to the United States after a year with Medway, and then formed his own engineering company with P. C. Keith, a former MIT class mate, and L. E. Winkler. They named the company the Keith-Winkler-Koch Engineering Company. In 1926, Keith left the company, and the company was renamed the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company. Koch served as its president until 1941, when he established his own firm, the Koch Engineering Company. He served as its president from 1943 to 1959.
In 1940, Koch co-founded Wood River Oil and Refining Company, an oil refiner, located in East Saint Louis, Illinois, and served as its president. In 1943, Koch founded the Koch Oil Corporation, which he served as its president from 1944 to 1959. In 1946, Koch also acquired the Rock Island Oil and Refining Company in Oklahoma.
In 1927, Koch’s engineering firm had developed an innovative oil refining process, which was more efficient to convert crude oil into gasoline than other technologies then available. The new process posed an economic threat to the then existing oil refineries, and they collectively launched numerous law suits, attacking the Koch patents for the new refining process. Koch quickly gave up fighting them, and saw an opportunity to develop gasoline refineries in the Soviet Union, during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, using the new and more efficient Koch refining process. While in the Soviet Union, he was able to get a first hand view of the machinations of the politically oppressive Soviet system, and he quickly developed a hatred and disdain for the Soviets. He saw many of the Russian engineers, with whom he worked, being arrested on trumped up charges, and eventually being eliminated.
In the middle 1930’s, he returned to the United States, and based on his first hand view of how the Soviets operated, became a strong anti-communist, and a charter member of the John Birch Society, a fervent anti-communist organization. Much later, in 1961, Koch would write a book on communism entitled, “A Business Man Looks at Communism”.
In 1932, Koch married Mary Robinson, and the couple had four sons, Frederick R. Koch , Charles G. Koch , David H. Koch , and David’s twin, William I. Koch . By the late 1950’s, none of his sons had joined him in the oil business, and he became concerned that he might have to sell his oil refineries, and other businesses to outside parties. His son Charles had followed his father’s academic interests, and had graduated from MIT with a B. S. degree in chemical engineering. He had gone to work for Arthur D. Little, and was one of its engineering consultants. So the senior Koch issued an ultimatum to Charles that if he did not join him in running the Koch companies, he would sell the Koch companies to outside interests. The ultimatum worked, and Charles joined the firm in 1961. In 1966, Charles became the president of the firm, and in 1967, following his father’s death, Charles became chairman and chief executive officer of the firm. In that same year the firm’s name was officially changed to Koch Industries, a name it still holds until today.
Fred C. Koch passed away in November 1967, at the rather moderate age of 67. He had had an eventful, probably very satisfying and successful career. The firm he left behind to his four sons was in the able hands of his son Charles. The firm was not large, it was then considered a medium sized oil firm, with annual revenues of about $180 million. If he could view the present firm, Koch Industries, with revenues in excess of $100 billion, he would undoubtedly be very pleased.”
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