It's May 25, 1902, and after two years of intense research, Georges Claude—engineer by day at the Thomson Houston Company and researcher by night—developed a process for liquefying air to separate its components (oxygen and nitrogen).
Georges Claude's enthusiasm says much about the significance of this discovery:
"The era of major oxygen applications is now open, and this era, especially for the metals industry, the chemical industry and the lighting industry, will be nothing less than an era of profound changes."1
He then teamed up with his classmate and friend, Paul Delorme, in order to fund his research in a small room of the La Villette warehouse provided by the Compagnie générale des omnibus.
The two men then go in search of funding in order to industrialize their promising process, but the banks were rather cautious. At the time, technological start-ups were called "developing companies" and did not attract the enthusiasm of investors. So they then turned to their peers. On November 8, 1902, they brought together 24 subscribers, the first 24 shareholders of the company called "L’Air Liquide, company established for the study and application of processes developed by Georges Claude". Paul Delorme became the first Chairman and the 24 shareholders shared the first 500 shares issued. They were primarily engineers, like Georges and Paul, whose scientific knowledge enabled them to assess the chances of the project's success.
L'Air Liquide then developed very quickly, thanks to the support of its shareholders who subscribed to several capital increases in the first few years to enable the industrialization of process for the production of oxygen from liquid air. The first factory was set up in France in 1903, and in 1905, the company recorded its first profits. In 1907, L'Air Liquide even paid out its first dividends. The company then set its sights on internationalization and built its first units in Belgium in 1906, then in Japan in 1907, in Spain and Italy in 1909, in Canada in 1911 and in the USA in 1916. With gas, by its very nature, being difficult to transport, this internationalization was vital to the development of the company.
L’Air Liquide, company established for the study and application of processes developed by Georges Claude
L'Air Liquide has regularly opened up its capital throughout its history to secure its expansion. On February 20, 1913, L'Air Liquide was listed on the Paris stock exchange. Shareholder interest did not diminish and the Group's share ownership expanded to small shareholders, who generally remained faithful to the company. For example, in 1936, L'Air Liquide was the sixth largest French publicly traded company, and shareholder commitment was strong.
A commitment that has continued throughout the history of the Group, in particular during the two capital increases2 conducted by Air Liquide. The first one was in 1986, in the context of the Big Three acquisition3, and the second, in 2016, when shareholders were once again involved in the Group's development with the acquisition of Airgas4. With a subscription rate of 191.2% for this acquisition, both individual and institutional shareholders renewed their support for the Group and affirmed their confidence in its potential to grow and create value in the long term.
Air Liquide is also committed to rewarding the investment and loyalty of its shareholders over the long term. In 2019, the Group carried out its 30th free share attribution, and has offered a loyalty bonus for over 20 years: +10% on the amount of dividends and on free shares applied to shares held for two full calendar years.
As you see, share ownership is part of Air Liquide's DNA, and this has been the case since the very beginning. The Group has changed, and is now present in 80 countries with about 67,000 employees. L'Air Liquide has become Air Liquide, but its individual share ownership is still as powerful. We have 420,000 individual shareholders and they hold 32% of the company's capital, which is the largest share on the large market capitalizations landscape within the CAC 40. 64% of individual shareholders have held their shares for over 10 years5. We are delighted to see that more and more people are contributing to the long history of share ownership with Air Liquide. This popularity, and shareholder loyalty, are a source of pride for the Group and are a gage of independence and stability.
Air Liquide archives (Minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors, Conversion right voucher, Archives of the Board of Directors' reports)
Minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors from 1901 to 1902
Minutes of the first meeting of the Board of Directors on December 10, 1901
Archives of the Board of Directors' reports
The “Petites Affiches” of February 16, 1937, official journal publishing the resolutions presented and adopted during the Annual General Meeting and the Board of Directors meeting of February 5, 1937
Conversion right voucher of 1969
1. Excerpt from "La liquéfaction de l’air et ses applications à la fabrication de l’oxygène et de l’azote" [The liquefaction of air and its applications in the manufacture of oxygen and nitrogen] — Journal de physique théorique et appliquée — by Georges Claude
2. Excluding capital increases reserved for employees and excluding capital increases linked to free share attribution
3. In the USA, Large Industries activity along the Gulf Coast
4. Primarily in the USA, Industrial Merchant activity
5. Havas-Opinion Way study — Cassons les idées reçues [Let's break down preconceived notions] — Air Liquide focus, conducted between October 29 and November 10, 2018 with a representative sample of Air Liquide's individual share ownership.
Article published on February 20, 2020