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Guide to the Pfizer Inc. collection ARC.084

128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11201
718-222-4111
library@brooklynhistory.org


Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Nicholas Pavlik

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 01, 2012
English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

Pfizer Inc. was founded in 1849 by cousins Charles Pfizer, a chemist, and Charles Erhart, a confectioner. Recent immigrants to Brooklyn, N.Y. from Germany, the cousins opened their business under the name Charles Pfizer & Company in a red-brick building in the Town of Williamsburgh, now the neighborhood of Williamsburg in the borough of Brooklyn. Their first successful product was a form of santonin covered in an almond toffee flavoring that was used to treat intestinal worms. During the Civil War, Pfizer supplied vital medical treatments (namely tartaric acid and cream of tartar) to the Union Army, which propelled a period of unprecedented growth and success for the company. In 1881 Pfizer moved its headquarters to a post-Revolutionary-era building at 81 Maiden Lane in Manhattan, and in 1882 it expanded to the Midwest, opening offices in Chicago, IL. By 1899 Pfizer was an established leader in the American chemical industry, producing such products as citric acid, borax, cream of tartar, and iodine.

The 20th century saw further innovation in Pfizer's product base. In 1919, Pfizer chemists James Currie and Jasper Kane developed a method of mold fermentation that allowed the company to mass-produce citric acid from sugar. In 1936, Pfizer became the world's leading producer of vitamin C, and by the late 1940s the company was the world leader in the production of all vitamins. In 1941, in response to an appeal from the United States Government, Pfizer began producing penicillin (commonly referred to at the time as "the miracle drug") for the treatment of Allied Soldiers during World War II, and was the only company to do so by utilizing the fermentation techniques developed by Currie and Kane. By 1944, Pfizer had developed a method of producing penicillin on a mass scale, and the company became an instrumental player in the worldwide treatment of many previously untreatable bacterial infections. Through this contribution to medicine, Pfizer cemented its position as one of the world's most distinguished leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, a reputation it would continue to uphold throughout the rest of the 20th century.

While Pfizer built upon its international growth in the latter half of the 20th century, it was also locally active in the Brooklyn community from which it emerged. Since its founding in Williamsburgh in 1849, Pfizer had served as one of the major employers of the Brooklyn labor force, and when the area surrounding its plant fell into a period of decline in the 1970s and 1980s, the company formed a public-private partnership with the city that resulted in increased jobs, housing, and education: unused lots were converted into low- and middle-income housing, apartment buildings were refurbished for the homeless, and a vacant four-story building was converted into the Beginning with Children Charter School. In 2007, Pfizer announced it would be phasing out operations at its Brooklyn plant, with the closing of the plant taking effect in 2009. However, the company still operates the Beginning with Children Charter School, and plans to convert the red-brick building that served as its original headquarters into the Charles Pfizer Community Education Center.

As of the first decade of the 21st century, Pfizer continues to be a vital player in the pharmaceutical industry, with locations throughout the world and with many major drugs in its product line for the treatment of such diseases as cancer, Alzheimer's, and HIV/AIDS, among many others. Though Pfizer no longer carries out operations in Brooklyn, it continues to hold its corporate headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

Sources:

  1. "Pfizer's Birthplace, Soon Without Pfizer." New York Times, January 28, 2007. Accessed August 23, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/nyregion/28pfizer.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=pfizer%20brooklyn&st=cse
  2. Pfizer Inc. "A Pioneering Spirit on the Fronteirs of Medicine." Accessed August 23, 2010. http://www.pfizer.com/about/history/timeline.jsp