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Pfizer Inc. Collection

Identifier: RH-A-3149

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the history and the operations of the Upjohn Company. The collection consists of manufacturing records produced from the tablets, pills and special formulas departments as well as individual researchers; full financial statements from 1901-1933 as well as a full run of annual reports from 1945-1986; real estate files; advertising and publicity as well as marketing and sales files; complete runs of Upjohn News, Scope, and The Overflow; company appraisals; and a medical group with technical publications and exhibit information.

Even though there is material ranging from the start of the company in 1886 until 2001, only the financial material is consistent throughout this period in its availability. Most other sections, such as the publications, real estate, advertising, and marketing, have sparse material starting from the early part of the company, but the bulk of the material is from 1930 to 1965. Material after the 1960's is especially sparse, with some published material.

Maintaining and reinstating the original order of the files was attempted at every possible turn. Most of the original folder names were kept, such as those in the advertising, real estate, marketing, and exhibit series. In some cases where folder names were absent such as manufacturing records and financial records, order was given by subject and established into series.


  • Creation: 1875-2001


Biographical / Historical

In 1884, a young William E. Upjohn was certain that there was a way to make better pills than the rock hard versions that were the norm. In his attic in Hastings, MI, he spent his evening hours after his days of practicing medicine tinkering with his pill-making machine which he perfected in 1885 to make the first “friable” pill. It was with this creation that the Upjohn Pill and Granule Company was born in 1886 and W.E. Upjohn partnered with his three brothers Fredrick, Henry and James. The friable pill was a huge success for the Upjohn brothers and their logo was emblematic of that fact, with a picture of a “pill under the thumb”.

Even though Upjohn’s new “friable” pill changed the face of the industry, tough times were not far ahead. At the turn of the century a new delivery system was coming into vogue which would largely replace the friable pill...the tablet. With the advent of the tablet, the Upjohn Pill and Granule Company hit hard times and saw sales fall, and in 1902 offered stock to area druggists and physicians in hopes of raising capital. This undertaking was largely unsuccessful, but this effort left the company with its new name that it would keep for 93 years, The Upjohn Company.
However, it wasn’t long before Upjohn began to bounce back with another blockbuster product. In 1908 the company came out with a mint flavored laxative called Phenolax, and by 1914 had sales of over 100,000,000 tablets. Nonetheless, all was not well in the Upjohn’s world as the brothers’ relationship grew strained and their disputes over the business did not always stay private, sometimes spilling over into the press. This infighting between W.E. and his two brothers, Fredrick and James, eventually led to Fredrick and James selling their interests in the company to W.E after a court battle and tense negotiations. In 1909 the company was reorganized with W.E. Upjohn as the majority shareholder and without his brothers having position in the company.

After the 1909 reorganization, the company had a decision to make. Would Upjohn stay in the more generalized business of laxatives, cough syrups, and other more common remedies, or would they become an “ethical” drug manufacturer, focusing on the quickly emerging market for specialized medication to treat individual illness. Upjohn ultimately made its decision to cater to the “higher end” market of ethical drugs and hired its first Ph.D. chemist Fredrick Heyl in 1913 to set up a research section in the company. Dr. Heyl would play a key role in the Upjohn Company for the next 30 years and become known as the “Father of Research”.

The company’s research department soon began to produce results with Digitora in 1919 which was a digitalis tablet that retained its potency, and also with Citrocarbonate in 1921, an alkalizer that had sales of over $1 million by 1926.

The Upjohn Company was doing well, and nothing highlighted this more than the Great Depression. Through the depression years, Upjohn had continued sales growth every year when many companies were losing money or failing. It was during these years that W.E. Upjohn bought land in a number of farms in Richland, Michigan for a work project for the Kalamazoo community in order to put people to work. The Richland farms, while initially a work project, would later help to spawn the Agricultural Division at Upjohn and eventually a Veterinary Division as well.

WWII saw the end of the depression years and with it continued growth and breakthroughs for Upjohn. On the home front, Upjohn established itself as one of the leaders in the vitamin market by developing Unicap, an early multivitamin introduced in 1940 that soon became the market leader. Upjohn also had important contracts with the government during the war years as a major penicillin supplier for the armed forces and as a supplier of “wound packets”. Upjohn developed the process for producing these infamous wound packets which were composed of sterilized sulfanilamide powder. After the war, Upjohn made one of the most important scientific discoveries of the era by finding a way to mass produce cortisone in 1952. Upjohn also increased their international operations significantly during the post-war years with subsidiaries in Canada, England, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia.

In 1958, the Upjohn Company became the last top pharmaceutical company to become a publicly traded company. However, even after the public stock offering, the Upjohn family still held nearly 60% of the company’s shares.

Soon after going public, Upjohn made a move into another new market by purchasing the Corwin Company in 1962. With this acquisition, they entered into the production of organic chemicals and their derivatives, including raw materials for urethane foams and plastics. Then in 1968, Upjohn made a very important purchase in the Asgrow Seed Company, then the leading worldwide producer of agronomic, vegetable, and flower seeds. This further expanded the agricultural business of Upjohn, leading them into another new area. Further expansion into new areas during this period also includes the 1969 purchase of Homemakers, Inc., a temporary help service specializing in home health care that directly involved Upjohn in the personal health care field for the first time.

Throughout the 1970’s, the company continued to grow, surpassing sales of $500 million in 1972 and quickly surpassing $1 billion in 1976. In 1974, Upjohn had another blockbuster drug come onto the market. Motrin becomes the first new anti-arthritic agent on the market in nearly a decade and enjoyed the highest first-year sales of any pharmaceutical product in history, a record at the time.

However, Upjohn lagged behind the other pharmaceutical companies going into the 1980's and 1990's and due to its lack of short to medium-term research prospects, went looking for a partner. They found a partner in Pharmacia, a Swedish pharmaceutical company, and they merged in 1995. The name of the company was changed to Pharmacia & Upjohn at this point, and when the company merged again in 2000 with Monsanto, the name of the company was changed to just Pharmacia, leaving the Upjohn name behind after 115 years in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2003, Pfizer, Inc. purchased Pharmacia.


200 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was received from Pfizer, Inc. in 2007 as a donation.

Related Collections

Upjohn Company Collection (A-429). For additional Pfizer/Upjohn material in other collections, consult the archives staff.

Restrictions to Access

No restrictions on the majority of collection. Some audio visual material may need to be transferred to another format to view. Photos and some Photostat material require the use of cloth gloves when handled.

Processing Information

Processed by: Andrew Young, with assistance from Pam Jobin, Doris Rey, George Macleod. 2008

Pfizer Inc. Collection Finding Aid
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490