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Hach, Clifford

Published onAug 05, 2021
Hach, Clifford

(1919- March 8, 1990)

Quick Facts

The largest contribution the Hachs made to Iowa State University was the endowment of 10 million dollars to ensure that the construction of a new chemistry building was not delayed or canceled during the 2007-08 real estate crisis. This building was supported by the Hachs with the intention that it would be named Hach Hall.


Clifford Hach (pronounced “hawk”) was born in 1919 to a German-Czech farm family in Marshall County located in rural central Iowa. Living alongside two brothers and sisters, they had a Spartan lifestyle, mandated by the harsh economic constraints of the 1930’s. Austerity was at an all-time high, with the family always making sure that there was enough money to meet their mortgage obligations.

Clifford was born with a penchant for science and a natural technical curiosity. He was always fixing things with his own hands. Repairs on the farm were never contracted, everything was done internally— an inherent mechanical requirement.

As a teenager, Clifford happened upon an unfinished ham radio kit with vacuum tubes. He finished building it, learned how to use Morse code, and was a full shortwave radio user at a young age. His school was almost a one room country school. At this time during the 1930’s, farming was still powered by horses. Clifford was awkward and was afraid of plowing behind horses. He had no desire to pursue an agricultural lifestyle.

With a keen interest in the sciences, he was fortunate enough to have Iowa State College (now University) located only 35 miles from his home. Being that it was a land-grant school emphasizing sciences and agriculture (the former being his biggest interest), he found himself quite at home. At this time, tuition was only $105 and the chemistry faculty was quite exemplary, allowing him to reap the full benefits of his college education.

As a freshman in 1938, Clifford started out majoring in electrical engineering. Later, he had heard a rapturous presentation from a Dr. O.R. Sweeny, who was the head of chemical engineering. This presentation on the beauty, structure, and potential of classical chemistry inspired Clifford to trade his electrical engineering major for a chemistry major. It was this decision that began and grew his inherent, if not mystical, love for chemistry.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Government began work on the Manhattan Project, which was focused on the development of an atomic bomb. Much of the research for this task was being done at the Enrico Fermi Labs in Chicago, and Dr. Franklin Spedding, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State, was tasked to head the chemical and metallurgic development of the purification of uranium and its reformulation into a fissionable material. This task was to be worked on in Ames and, if successfully formulated, would be produced there. This great undertaking caused Dr. Spedding to request that 25 chemistry undergraduates serve as advanced technicians. Therefore, Clifford Hach was chosen as one of those 25 because of a recommendation by the head of the Department of Chemistry’s Quantitative Analysis Department, Dr. Harvey Diehl. Immersed in a critical project with a group of great chemists was, for Clifford, incredibly important for his informal education.

Hach was quite interested in the idea of being a self-employed chemist and noticed that almost all quantitative analysis was done using standard methods, or standard editions in chemistry. These are complicated procedures in which reagents are made by hand, and there is a need for laboratory skills and knowledge of sophisticated technique. It was in these systemic flaws that Clifford saw an opening, not just for commercial gain, but also to make the testing experience more enjoyable, meaningful, and less complicated. In turn, he hoped to stimulate interest in the chemical sciences. Therefore, he founded what was known as the Hach Company in order to make these visions come into fruition.

His first project was to rework the methods that allowed one to find hardness titration, with all of the reagents and equipment provided. This fundamental project was a bit stymied, but with help and consulting from a Dr. Diehl, they combined EDTA and a commercial dye, Eriochrome Black T, and came up with a colorimetric titration compound that had a perfect color change endpoint.

Clifford and Kitty Hawk

Hach sold the compound for just $5.60, with little knowledge on how to effectively sell it. Kitty Hach, his wife, took over all administration so Clifford could work unimpeded in the laboratory. In her spare time, she would send unsolicited notices to public water-treatment plants around the country. This would slowly lead these companies to start ordering from his company. Soon, they were selling chemical quantitative analysis products directly in the mail.

With the titrations, color comparisons, and visual color standards becoming more prevalent, the next step was to develop photoelectric colorimeters. Always in keeping within the bounds of chemical principles, he used pre-measured calibration curves, auto-identified interference filters, pre-manufactured reagents, and highly simplified procedures to complete this task. With all of this combined, he created the DR or Direct Read.

This leads to one of Clifford’s idiosyncrasies, which was to maximize the number of measurable parameters, regardless of the market potential of these parameter-heavy products. If possible, Clifford sought to put all of them in a single container. It may have seemed impractical, but in the late 1950’s, the DREL, or Data Record Expression Language, was created by Hach and contained an apparatus for 41 different tests. This apparatus was sometimes called alkalinity to zinc. No one else was doing this, and clearly contributed to the Hach Company’s brand identity.

Another task entrusted to the Hach Company was to develop a new system for nephelometric analysis. Nephelometry is the process of suspending certain compounds in water and refracting light through these compounds to quantitatively analyze them. The Hach Company eventually developed the system that became the most widely used standard in nephelometric analysis, the 2100.

From there, the company expanded to manufacturing all sorts of test kits such as spectrophotometers along with various handheld versions, programmable micro-processor based spectrophotometers, digital titrations, and various hand-held colorimeters. The company also made more improvements to existing methods of chemical testing for things like turbidity, the analysis of COD (or Chemical Oxygen Demand), along with improvements to the endless parameters in other various configurations of test kits.

Clifford and his company was always attempting to improve a vast array of tests and parameters. He always appreciated the assurance of a successful business, but didn’t care as much about the actual product sales as much as he cared about the science behind each and every product he and his company created.

Clifford Hach died on March 8, 1990 due to a massive heart attack caused by the congenital high blood pressure he dealt with throughout his life. He often attempted to control it with a very strict diet.

Danaher bought the company shortly after, and now has six other companies similar to Hach. Danaher is considered to be a major water corporation in the United States, but the sub company of Danaher that has the most advanced research is Hach’s—and they have rebranded most of the other sub companies to Hach as well. The Hach name and company values continue to live on today.

The philanthropic legacy of Clifford and Kitty Darrow Hawk includes:

  • In 1982 the Hachs established the Hach Scientific Foundation to support chemistry in the classroom through grants to students and schools. In January 2009, the Hach Scientific Foundation transferred its assets to the American Chemical Society, which continues to administer the scholarship and grant programs.

  • In May 2000, Kathryn Hach-Darrow gave a $10 million gift to Northwood University. The Hach Student Life Center, a 62,212 square foot student center which includes classrooms, social areas, and sports facilities, opened in 2002.

  • Kitty Hach-Darrow and the Hach family were significant contributors to the building of Hach Hall, a new chemistry building dedicated at Iowa State University on October 8, 2010.

  • Through gifts in 2012 and 2014, Hach-Darrow established an endowment for the Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success through the American Chemical Society. The award is to be given to someone who has "created something where nothing existed before”.

Selected Resources

Association, American Water Works. 2015. 93-year-old Kitty Hach-Darrow shares lifetime of memories. September 15.,

Carolyn Stilts. 1992. The Ames Project: Administering classified research as a part of the Manhattan Project at Iowa State College, 1942-1945. PhD Thesis, Ames: Iowa State University.

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