Born on March 14, 1876, Röhm was one of four children, all boys. His father was a notary, and his mother died when he was only eight years old. He grew up in the small towns of Öhringen and Blaubeuren in southwestern Germany.
At 16, Röhm began an apprenticeship with a local pharmacist. Following that, he joined the army for a year before pursuing pharmaceutical studies at Munich and Tübingen. At Tübingen, he worked with brilliant chemists who were doing cutting-edge chemistry, and he decided he would rather be a chemist than a pharmacist. Nonetheless, he finished his pharmaceutical degree but then immediately began doctoral studies in chemistry. He received his doctorate from the University of Tübingen in 1901 with a dissertation on the polymerization products of acrylic acid.
After a series of brief jobs, Röhm ended up as a chemist at the municipal gas works
Oropon was the enzyme-based leather bate that launched the Rohm and Haas Company. With this discovery, Röhm became the first chemist to isolate and technically exploit enzymes.
Röhm called on his business-minded friend, Otto Haas, in 1906 to help him market his discovery. How the two Ottos first met is unclear, though they most likely met in Stuttgart. Some sources say they met in 1900 through mutual friends. Haas, in a personal handwritten account of his life, referred to Röhm as a "boyhood friend."
The love of Röhm's life, in addition to chemistry, was his Czechoslovakian-born wife, Elisabeth, whom he married on August 28, 1909. Together they had a daughter and a son. Röhm spent the next several years growing the German operations at Darmstadt, while Haas was doing the same for the U.S. business in Philadelphia. He briefly joined the battlefront in World War I but was called back after six weeks because of the importance of Rohm and Haas to the German war economy.
His other great invention, Plexiglas, came in 1933.
As in the United States, Plexiglas was soon put to use in the war in military aircraft, only in this case on the side of Germany. Röhm loved his country but was distressed by the Nazi movement. According to a 1957 biography, he lamented, "Till now, national socialism shows: absolutism toward the helpless, liberalism toward the powerful … that is the opposite of heroism."
In 1936, Röhm lost his beloved wife, an event from which he never fully recovered. He died in Berlin on September 17, 1939, with more than 70 patents to his name and the successful German firm of Rohm and Haas, later Röhm GmbH, thriving.