Pfizer Inc: Exploring Our History
With $2,500 borrowed from Charles Pfizer's father, cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart, young entrepreneurs from Germany, open Charles Pfizer & Company as a fine-chemicals business. A modest red-brick building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, serves as office, laboratory, factory, and warehouse.
Their first product is a palatable form of santonin — an antiparasitic used to treat intestinal worms, a common affliction in mid-19th century America. Combining their skills, Pfizer, a chemist, and Erhart, a confectioner, blend santonin with almond-toffee flavoring and shape it into a candy cone. The "new" santonin is an immediate success and the company is launched.
The first domestic production of tartaric acid and cream of tartar, products vital to the food and chemical industries, is launched by Pfizer.
As demand for painkillers, preservatives, and disinfectants soars during the Civil War, Pfizer expands production of tartaric acid (used as a laxative and skin coolant) and cream of tartar (effective as both a diuretic and cleansing agent) as well as other vital drugs to help meet the needs of the Union Army. Among these are iodine, morphine, chloroform, camphor, and mercurials, which, in addition to medicinal applications, are used in the emerging field of photography, the new medium photographer Mathew Brady employs to chronicle the Civil War.
The expansion propelled by the Civil War continues and Pfizer's revenues double. The company now has a substantially increased product line and 150 new employees. To accommodate this growth, it buys and renovates a post-Revolutionary-era building at 81 Maiden Lane in Manhattan and moves its headquarters there. The site carries the Pfizer name for nearly a century.
Using imported concentrates of lemon and lime, Pfizer begins manufacturing citric acid. Pfizer soon becomes America's leading producer of citric acid. As new drinks like Coca-Cola™, Dr. Pepper™, and Pepsi-Cola™ gain popularity, demand for citric acid soars. It becomes Pfizer's main product and the launching pad of its growth in the decades to follow.
Spurred by America's westward expansion and its own growing number of clients west of the Mississippi, Pfizer opens offices and a warehouse in Chicago, Illinois, its first location outside of New York.
On December 27, cofounder Charles Erhart dies and leaves a partnership worth $250,000 to his son William. However, the agreement stipulates that Charles Pfizer can buy William Erhart's share at half its inventory value — an option Charles Pfizer quickly exercises, consolidating ownership of the company in his hands.
A leader in the American chemical business, Pfizer marks its 50th anniversary. Its portfolio includes a wide array of industrial and pharmacological products, anchored by citric acid, camphor, cream of tartar, borax, and iodine. The company has offices in New York and Chicago, and its contacts in the import-export business crisscross the world.
A statement made by Charles Pfizer at the company's 50th anniversary celebration reveals where the company stands as it moves into the 20th century and into an increasingly competitive marketplace: "Our goal has been and continues to be the same: to find a way to produce the highest-quality products and to perfect the most efficient way to accomplish this, in order to serve our customers. This company has built itself on its reputation and its dedication to these standards, and if we are to celebrate another 50 years, we must always be aware that quality is the keystone."
"Dr. Pepper" is a registered trademark of Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc.
"Pepsi-Cola" is a registered trademark of Pepsico Inc.
"Coca-Cola" is a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company