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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

Descriptive Summary

 
Creator: Brooklyn Historical Society (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.).
Creator: Pfizer Inc.
Title: Pfizer Inc. collection
Dates [inclusive]: circa 1849-1992, 2007-2008
Abstract: Pfizer Inc. was founded in 1849 by German immigrants and cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart under the name Charles Pfizer & Company. The company's original headquarters were in a red-brick building in the Town of Williamsburgh, now the neighborhood of Williamsburg in the borough of Brooklyn. By 1899 Pfizer was an established leader in the American chemical industry, and by the end of the 20th century it was a worldwide leader in the pharmaceutical industry. Pfizer has also 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. The Pfizer Inc. collection contains materials pertaining to Pfizer's roles as a global leader in the pharmaceutical industry and a local employer in the Brooklyn community, as well as the closing of the company's Brooklyn plant in 2009. Materials include reports and publications, photographs, and oral history transcripts and recordings.
Quantity: 1.25 Linear feet in four folders, one record carton, and 24 MP3 audio files.
Mixed materials [Carton]: ARC.084 1 of 1
Mixed materials [Box]: ARC.084 1 of 1
Call Phrase: ARC.084
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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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

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Scope and Contents

The Pfizer Inc. collection contains materials pertaining to Pfizer's roles as a worldwide leader in the pharmaceutical industry and a major employer in the Brooklyn community, as well as the closing of the company's Brooklyn plant in 2009. The collection has been divided into three series:

  1. Reports and publications, 1963-1992.
  2. Photographs, 1957, circa 1985
  3. Oral history transcripts, 2007-2008.

Reports and publications contains Pfizer annual reports, newsletters, a report on Pfizer's role in the production of penicillin, and miscellaneous publications released by Pfizer regarding its history, products, and role in the international community.  Photographs contains copies of photographs (dating back as far as 1849) relating to Pfizer's locations and employees, released by Pfizer's Public Affairs Division.  Oral histories contains recordings of oral history interviews with Pfizer Brooklyn employees, conducted by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2007 and 2008 after Pfizer announced it would be closing its Brooklyn Plant. This series also contains transcripts of the interviews, supporting documentation regarding the interview process, and selected audio clips. The recordings of the interviews can be listened to onsite at the Othmer Library.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Oral histories (document genres)
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Reports
  • Sound recordings
  • Transcripts

Subject Organizations

  • Chas. Pfizer & Co.
  • Pfizer Inc.

Subject Topics

  • Penicillin
  • Penicillin -- History
  • Pharmaceutical industry |z New York (State) |z Kings County
  • Pharmaceutical industry |z New York (State) |z Kings County |x Employees
  • Pharmaceutical industry -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Work environment |z New York (State) |z Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Economic conditions
  • Williamsburg (New York, N.Y.)

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use note

Reproduction rights for photographs have not been established. All oral history recordings are the property of the Brooklyn Historical Society. Please consult library staff for more information.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Pfizer Inc. collection, ARC.084, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Other Finding Aids note

A description of the Brooklyn Historical Society's Pfizer Brooklyn Oral History Project, carried out in 2007 and 2008, is available at http://brooklynhistory.org/library/wp/pfizer-brooklyn-oral-history/. Item-level descriptions and digital versions of images from the collection are available for searching via the image database in the library. Please consult library staff for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Oral history interviews with Pfizer Brooklyn employees, as well as subsequent transcriptions of the interviews, were conducted and produced by the Brooklyn Historical Society, 2007 to 2008. Sources and dates of acquisition for all other materials in the collection are unknown.

Processing Information note

Minimally processed to the series level.

The collection combines the accessions 1986.049, V1986.248, 1992.014, and 2008.029.

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Container List

Series 1: Reports and Publications, 1963-1992. 0.21 Linear feet in three folders.

Scope and Contents

This series contains several miscellaneous publications released by Pfizer during the period 1963 to 1986, including two copies of Pfizer's newsletter, Pfizer Scene, for April through May of 1986. Other publications cover such topics such as Pfizer's history, the process of fermentation, Pfizer's position as a worldwide leader in the pharameutical industry, and Pfizer's involvement in Third World health issues and community development. Also included in this series are annual reports for the years 1964, 1974, and 1985; a report on the 1986 annual meeting of shareholders; and a 1990 report on Pfizer's production of penicillin in Brooklyn during the period 1941 to 1945, produced for an exhibition on penicillin at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Series 2: Photographs, circa 1849-1985. 0.02 Linear feet in one folder.

Scope and Contents

This series contains several photographs released by Pfizer's Public Affairs Division. Though it is assumed that the majority of the photographs in this series were released circa 1985, they are in fact copies of earlier images dating from the period 1849 to 1960. Photographs portray exterior shots of Pfizer's locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, interiors of the Brooklyn plant with employees at work, and one group shot of the Brooklyn plant's work force. There is also a copy image of Pfizer's company letterhead (as used in 1935), and one studio portrait of Charles Pfizer and his family, taken in Germany in 1870.

Series 3: Oral Histories, 2007-2008. 1.0 Linear feet in 1 record carton and 24 MP3 audio files.

Scope and Contents

This series contains recordings and transcripts of interviews from the Brooklyn Historical Society's Pfizer Brooklyn Oral History Project, carried out in 2007 and 2008 after Pfizer announced it would be closing down its Brooklyn plant. In total, interviews with 25 employees of Pfizer Brooklyn are included in this series. Full recordings of the interviews can be listened to onsite at the Othmer Library. Additional ephemera concerning the Oral History Project, Pfizer, and Penecillin is also included, along with an article from the Williamsburg Courier regarding the closing of the Brooklyn plant and copies of historic clippings from the  Brooklyn Eagle pertaining to events in Pfizer's history.

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