President (1945 – 1949) Chairman of the Board
(1949 – 1950)
John Smith joined Pfizer as a laboratory consultant in 1906 - the year of Charles Pfizer's death - and during his 44 years with the Company set in motion the forces that transformed it from supplier of compounds into a major research-based pharmaceutical company.
Smith interrupted his early career at Pfizer in 1914 to head up the development of a large-scale ether process at E.R. Squibb & Sons, another Brooklyn-based pharmaceutical manufacturer. He came back to Pfizer as superintendent of the Brooklyn plant in 1919 and introduced a greater emphasis on new scientific principles, which helped stimulate the company's research and development efforts.
During the 1930s, when Smith heard of the first studies of penicillin in England, he investigated it potential for the treatment of infectious and, in those days, often fatal diseases. With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, Smith accepted the formidable challenge presented by the United States government: to mass produce penicillin commercially. Pfizer used its deep-tank fermentation expertise with successful results, thus becoming the first company in the world to manufacture penicillin. As a result of Pfizer's effort, countless lives were saved on the battlefield and the home front.
Smith served as president from 1945 to 1949 and as chairman from 1949 to 1950, the year of his death. He established a research laboratory at Groton, Connecticut, and an agricultural farm and fermentation plant at Terre Haute, Indiana.
He also found time and energy to participate in numerous Brooklyn institutions and volunteer organizations including The Industrial Home for the Blind and the Brooklyn Public Library. In the 1940s, he became a part owner of the celebrated Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.
Smith's keen interest in sports spilled over into the Company. The sports program, which grew to include bowling, softball, basketball, and golf, in addition it baseball, was a considerable factor in the long-standing loyalty and affection Pfizer people continued to show in the company. In fact, it was during Smith's time that the term 'Pfizer Family" was coined.
Smith died a week before the patent for the groundbreaking antibiotic Terramycin® (oxytetracycline) was issued in July 1950. Following his longstanding recommendation, the Company decided to sell Terramycin® under the Pfizer name. The stage was now set for Pfizer's full-scale entry into the specialty pharmaceutical business.