The historical roots of Umicore go back more than 200 years and the Group in its current form is the result of the coming together of a number of mining and smelting companies which gradually evolved into the materials technology and recycling company Umicore is today.
On 17 December 1805, Jean Dony obtained the concession of the Vieille-Montagne mine in Moresnet, on what is today the border between Belgium and Germany. This date can thus be said to mark the beginning of what became in 1837 the “Société Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille-Montagne”, the oldest of Umicore’s predecessor companies.
The history of another main strand of Umicore, Union Minière, commenced in 1906. At that time it was known as Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) and its activity consisted of exploiting the rich mineral resources of Belgium's colony of the Congo: copper, cobalt, tin and precious metals.
After the company's assets were nationalized by the Zairian government in 1968, Union Minière set out to develop new mining and refining activities. It eventually became a sub-holding of Société Générale de Belgique.
The merger in 1989 of Union Minière with its subsidiaries, Metallurgie Hoboken-Overpelt (copper, lead, cobalt, germanium, precious metals and special metals), Vieille-Montagne (zinc) and Mechim (engineering) transformed Union Minière into an integrated industrial group.
Union Minière increasingly positioned itself as a specialty materials company in the late 1990s, focusing on precious metals, high-margin zinc products and advanced materials based mainly on cobalt and germanium. It had earlier sold its remaining mining and other non-strategic assets. To symbolise this trend of moving away from mining and the production of commodities and base metals, the Group changed its name to Umicore in 2001.
The acquisition of PMG in 2003 added a new dimension to the company, including a major presence into the automotive catalyst sector. PMG was in fact the former precious metals unit of the German Degussa group – the very company which, in 1887, had been a founding shareholder of Umicore’s Hoboken plant. In 2005 Umicore spun off its copper business into a separate company, Cumerio, which was separately listed on the Brussels stock exchange. In 2007 Umicore combined its zinc refining & alloys business with that of Zinifex. The new company, Nyrstar, was also listed in Brussels. During the same year Umicore acquired the automotive catalyst division of Delphi, which reinforced Umicore's global leadership positions in the automotive catalyst business
Today Umicore is aglobal materials technology and recycling group, with more than 14,000 employees and a turnover of €12.5 billion.