Bayer aspirin plant
in Rensselaer

Jim Tyler of Syracuse, NY has shared the following excerpts from Chemicals, Metals and Men: Gas, Chemicals And Coke: A Bird's Eye View of the Materials that Make the World Go Around by Nils Anderson, Jr. and Mark W. DeLawyer (Vantage Press, 1995). Aspirin - or acetylsalicylic acid, to give it its proper chemical name - is derived from the bark of the willow tree and has been known since ancient times, both in Europe and in the Americas. It was first synthesized in a dosable form in the 1890s by the German chemist Felix HOFFMANN (1868-1946) of Ludwigsburg, who worked for Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedrich Bayer & Co. in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, Germany. Another book about the marketing of aspirin is Aspirin Wars: Money, Medicine and 100 Years of Rampant Competition by Charles C. Mann and Mark L. Plummer (New York: Knopf, 1991).

"Frederic Carl DUISBERG, Jr. [1861-1935] was one of most creative and dynamic men German industry ever produced." He joined the BAYER company in 1884.

"In 1903, sales of aspirin had grown to the extent that a manufacturing facility in the United States was a necessity...."

"With the potential for profit as well as the government's warning uppermost in his mind, Duisberg laid the plans for a giant drug-manufacturing plant to be built at Rensselaer, near Albany, NY."

"The plant was to be the largest and most modern chemical plant in the United States. The sprawling complex covered 75 acres and was meant to employ almost 8,000 people. Its principal focal point was two huge silver globes in which Bayer aspirin was to be made.

"The Bayer plant opened with much fanfare. Unfortunately, it was not long before the plant was in trouble. The First World War [1914-1918] started, and it was just a matter of time before the Bayer assets, along with the assets of other IG members, would be seized, the two most important groups being the dye and drug patents as well as the huge new Bayer plant. Some of the IG dye patents were seized and turned over to the National Aniline Company. The others, including the Bayer plant, were seized but not sold until after the war, and it is there that their story belongs."

"In December of 1918, a month after the armistice was signed [on 11 November 1918], a group of representatives from over a hundred American chemical and drug companies gathered outside the gates of the giant Bayer complex in Rensselaer to bid on the plant, which was being sold at auction. Bidding started at $1 million. When the hammer fell, it wasn't Semet-Solvay, Koppers, or even DuPont that won but a relatively unknown drug company called STERLING. When they bought the American assets of the Bayer company, Sterling paid $5,310,000 for the plant and the rights to a number of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, dyes, and a little-known competitor of Neuralgene called aspirin.

"Sterling handled the sales of aspirin and the other over-the-counter drugs, and a subsidiary known as the Winthrop Chemical Company handled the pharmaceuticals. Rights to the dyes were sold to the Grasselli Chemical Company for $1.5 million. Sterling went on to become a giant in the drug industry, while Grasselli operated for nearly two decades before being purchased by DuPont."

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