Leon Bloom, founder of BioLab and widely considered the godfather of modern pool care, passed away May 14 in Sarasota, Fla. He was 96.
Bloom is credited with ushering in a number of industry innovations, including computerized water testing and shock packaged for proper dosing. But it was his programmed approach to water treatment that revolutionized the pool industry.
Long before BioLab became a major player in the global pool business, it was a modest, family-run enterprise operated out of a home basement laboratory in Decatur, Ga.
Bloom initially had his sights set on the state’s burgeoning poultry industry when he began BioLab in 1955. Chicks didn’t stand much of a chance back then because bacteria and disease ran rampant in hatcheries. Bloom, a self-taught chemist, determined that quaternary ammonium algaecide was the answer to the dismal chicken mortality rate, and he developed a disinfection system to cleanse eggs and sanitize drinking and bathing water, dramatically increasing hatch rates.
BioLab had pretty well cornered the chemical side of the chicken business when Bloom began exploring other avenues for his algaecide. He discovered a ripe market in swimming pools, an industry growing so rapidly that Bloom sold his agricultural interests to a managing partner.
But success wasn’t immediate.
“The feedback he got was ‘We just don’t need another quat supplier,’” recalled Larry Bloom, one of two nephews who succeeded their uncle in his retirement. The other was Marshall Bloom, Larry’s older brother. Both are now retired.
The industry was in its infancy back then. Little thought was given to how chemicals impacted the longevity of pools and their equipment.
“Nobody had any kind of program for taking care of pools,” explained Charlie Schobel, who was hired by Bloom in 1975 and went on to serve the company until 2012, when he retired as vice president. “They put chlorine in and they threw shock treatment in every once in a while, but they really didn’t understand water balance.”
Determined to find a place for his product, Bloom and his research team explored more advanced water-related industries and applied what they learned from boiler water treatment, which utilized the Langelier Saturation Index to determine calcium hardness, forever changing how the industry tested water.
As early as 1962, Bloom firmly cemented his place in the pool industry with the advent of BioGuard. No longer pushing algaecide as a stand-alone, he instead marketed a treatment program that combined products, including 1-pound bags of shock — a novel approach at the time — to deliver optimum water quality and balance.
“It’s 24-hour-a-day bacteria-kill, algae-free, sparkling blue water,” said Larry Bloom, recalling his uncle’s sales pitch. “He said ‘That’s what we deliver! We don’t sell cal hypo and tri-chlor and quats.’”
A consummate salesman, Bloom maintained his own territories, becoming famous for flying his personal plane to various parts of the country to personally visit and establish dealers.
Bloom sold the company to Swedish chemical supplier Lonza in 1979 and retired to Florida shortly thereafter. At the time, BioLab had 2,000 employees and annual revenues of $20 million, Larry Bloom said.
The elder Bloom could have sold for more, his nephew explained, but he lowered the price in an agreement that gave his employees a funded pension plan.
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Larry Bloom said.
BioLab has since changed hands two more times. In 1996, Great Lakes Chemical Co. purchased BioLab, then merged with Crompton Corp. to form Chemtura in 2005. (Larry Bloom estimated the company was worth $700 million worldwide by that point.) Most recently, it was acquired by KIK Custom Products for $300 million.
Bloom never had children, but treated his many nephews and nieces as his own, Larry Bloom said. He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Dorothy Bloom.