Sterling Drug


Sterling Drug was an American global pharmaceutical company, also known as Sterling Winthrop, Inc. in its last years (after the merger with Winthrop-Stearns Inc. which itself resulted from the merger of Winthrop Chemical Company Inc. and Frederick Stearns & Company). It was formerly known as Sterling Winthrop Pharmaceuticals, whose primary product lines included diagnostic imaging agents, hormonal products, cardiovascular products, analgesics, antihistamines and muscle relaxants.

Sterling Drug
IndustryHealth care
FateAcquired by Bayer AG
Headquarters90 Park Avenue New York, NY 10016
ProductsLehn & Fink, Bayer Aspirin, Phillips'
ParentEastman Kodak (1988 to 1994)

Chemical compounds produced by this company were often known by their manufacturing code which consisted of the abbreviation WIN (for Winthrop) followed by a number. For example, WIN 18,320 was nalidixic acid, the first quinolone antibiotic.[1]



The Company was established in 1901 (then called Neuralgyline Co.) in Wheeling, West Virginia, by Albert H. Diebold and William E. Weiss, a pharmacist.[2][citation needed] At the end of World War I in 1918, Sterling purchased the US assets of a German company now known as Bayer AG for US$5.3 million. This purchase was directed under the Alien Property Custodian Act. In 1919, Sterling sold its dye division for $2.5 million to the Grasselli Chemical Company (based in Linden, New Jersey), which employed many former Bayer personnel.[3]


A 1920 agreement between Sterling and Bayer was about selling aspirin in the Latin American markets: the profit would be shared fifty-fifty, with Bayer supplying the pharmaceutical and selling mainly via Sterlings salesmen. In 1923, another momentous contract was negotiated: 50% of the profits earned by Sterling's subsidiary Winthrop Chemical, was given to the German Bayer company, which in turn granted licences for new drugs and supported with technical expertise how to produce them. Later, this was turned into a 50% share in ownership.[4] The American Bayer, owned by Sterling, retained the rights to use the "Bayer" brand for selling aspirin in the US, the UK and the Commonwealth.[5] In 1923 Sterling purchased a 25% interest in The Centaur Company, manufacturer of Charles Henry Fletcher's, Fletcher's Castoria.[6]


In 1940, a cross-contamination from equipment sharing resulted in Winthrop Chemical producing contaminated sulfathiazole tablets contaminated with phenobarbital. Each sulfathiazole tablet was contaminated with about 350 mg of phenobarbital. An investigation by US Food and Drug Administration and the findings resulted in actions. The incident was influential in the introduction of Good Manufacturing Practices for drugs.[7]

Mollé Mystery Theatre[8] was a 30-minute anthology radio program that ran from 1943 to 1948 on NBC prior to its moving to the CBS network. The show, sponsored initially by Sterling Drugs, manufacturers of Mollé Brushless Shaving Cream, began airing on Tuesday evenings during prime time. In 1948, Mollé ceased sponsoring the program, and its title became Mystery Theater.[9][10]

1960s to 1970sEdit

In 1967, Sterling Drug acquired Lehn & Fink, the makers of Lysol, Resolve, and d-CON. In 1974, Sterling opened a manufacturing plant in McPherson, Kansas. The various companies which would eventually acquire Sterling chose to keep the factory open.[citation needed]

1980s to 1990sEdit

In 1988, Sterling was acquired by Eastman Kodak for $5.1 billion.[11][12] In 1993, Eastman Kodak/Sterling Winthrop partnered with a French pharmaceutical company Elf Sanofi (now known as Sanofi Aventis).[11] In June 1994, Eastman Kodak sold the prescription drug business of its Sterling Winthrop subsidiary to Sanofi for US$1.675 billion and the return of Kodak's minority stake in Sterling Health Europe.[13] A week later, Sanofi announced that it was not interested in the diagnostic imaging business, which it sold to the Norwegian company Hafslund Nycomed AS for US$450 million.[14][15]

In August 1994, Kodak sold the remainder of Sterling Winthrop, including its over the counter drug business which had been generating about $1 billion in revenue annually, to the British firm SmithKline Beecham for US$2.925 billion cash.[16] Bayer was a losing bidder for the purchase of Sterling Winthrop, but in September 1994, it purchased the over the counter division of Sterling Winthrop in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico from SmithKline Beecham for $1 billion. Bayer also re-acquired the brand rights to the "Bayer Aspirin" name it had lost because of World War I.[17]

Spinoffs from the sale of Sterling include Starwin Products, created in 1987 from Sterling's original branch in Ghana. The Lehn & Fink division was acquired by Reckitt & Colman (now Reckitt Benckiser) at the time of the deal.[18]



  1. ^ Emmerson, A. M.; Jones, A. M. (2003). "The Quinolones: Decades of Development and Use". Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. 51 (Suppl 1): 13–20. doi:10.1093/jac/dkg208. PMID 12702699.
  2. ^ Collins, Joseph; Gwilt, John (2000). "THE LIFE CYCLE OF STERLING DRUG, INC" (PDF). Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  3. ^ "General Aniline Linden, New Jersey". Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  4. ^ Wilkins, Mira (2004). The History of Foreign Investment in the United States, 1914–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0674013087.
  5. ^ "Foreign Trade Strategies of I.G. Farben after World War I" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 29, 2005. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  6. ^ The New York Times. February 9, 1923. p. 24 (col. 1). {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Pepling, Rachel S. (2005). "Phenobarbital". Chemical & Engineering News. 83 (25). Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  8. ^ "Molle Mystery Theatre". Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  9. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 237. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  10. ^ Schadow, Karl (2018). The Mollé Mystery Theatre: Close Shave. Little Falls, NJ: Radio Spirits. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-1-61709-566-5. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Collins, Joseph C.; Gwilt, John R. (2000). "The Life Cycle of Sterling Drug, Inc" (PDF). Bull. Hist. Chem. 25 (1): 22–27.
  12. ^ Feder, Barnaby J. (January 25, 1988). "Kodak's Diversification Plan Moves Into a Higher Gear". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Kodak to Sell Drug Unit for $1.68 Billion". Los Angeles Times. June 24, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  14. ^ "health". Los Angeles Times. June 30, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  15. ^ "Aspirin". Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  16. ^ "Kodak to Sell Remaining Sterling Winthrop Unit : Drugs: SmithKline Beecham will buy the consumer health products business for $2.925 billion". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. August 30, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  17. ^ Olmos, David (September 14, 1994). "German Firm to Reclaim Bayer Aspirin Name : Drugs: It will acquire Sterling Winthrop's over-the-counter business and recover the rights it lost after WWI". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  18. ^ "Solid Player Leaps To Big Leagues With Lysol Buy". Chicago Tribune. September 30, 1994. Retrieved April 9, 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • Ambruster, H. W. (1947). Treason's Peace: German Dyes and American Dupes. New York: Beechhurst Press.