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In 1849, a young German chemist, Charles Pfizer, and his cousin Charles Erhart, who had come to America seeking new opportunities, founded the business that bears the Pfizer name. With $2,500 borrowed from Pfizer's father, they purchased a small brick building on Bartlett Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where they produced santonin, a compound used to combat parasitic worms, as well as other fine chemicals. Over time they expanded their product line to include iodine salts, mercurials, and bismuth salts for pharmaceuticals use. The cousins' insistence on quality was virtually an obsession, and their products very quickly won widespread recognition for "Pfizer Quality," a slogan that was later used on all Pfizer packaging.
In 1857, Pfizer opened an office in downtown Manhattan on Beekman Street, in the heart of the drug and chemical district. Eleven years later, this office was moved to a four-story building at 81 Maiden Lane in the Wall Street area where, in 1878, the Company installed one of the city's first telephones.
Charles Pfizer made frequent trips to Europe, where he maintained contacts with providers of raw materials, which the Company converted into preparations for wholesale and retail chemists. It was on one such trip to his birthplace of Ludwigburg that Pfizer met his future wife, Anna Hausch, whom he married in 1859. Charles and Anna had five children, two of which, Charles Jr. and Emile, went on to work for the Company.
By 1860, the Company was manufacturing borax and boric acid - the first important producer of these chemicals in the United States. During the Civil War, a protective tariff against imported tartars enabled the Company to start local production of tartars, which were made from encrustation residues left in wine casks. Tartaric acid carried in battlefield medical kits helped to treat the wounds and diseases of Union Army soldiers.
Expansion continued in the postwar decades, chiefly in the manufacture of citric acid from imported citrate of lime. Just prior to retiring in 1900, Charles Pfizer incorporated the Company with authorized capital of $100,000 divided into 1,000 shares, with a par value of $100 a share. At the time of his death in 1906 at age 82 Chas. Pfizer & Co., Inc. had sales of about $3.4 million and nearly 200 employees.