Few modern companies have roots reaching back to the Renaissance. Merck, the oldest pharmaceutical company in the world, is one of them. The company was created in 1668 by German apothecary Friedrich Jacob Merck, who bought Angel Pharmacy, or Engel Apotheke, to hawk his herbs, lozenges and electuaries. The business was located in Darmstadt, known in Germany as “Wissenschaftsstadt,” or the City of Science. Business thrived and under the direction of Emanuel Merck, a direct descendent of Jacob, the company branched out in 1827 from pharmaceutical trading into research, providing new raw materials such as alkaloids for sale to physicians and pharmacists as well as other chemists.
By 1900, Merck had offices on six continents and was continuously expanding its suite of medicinal products, including substances with liquid crystalline properties. About the same time, the famed Merck Manual — still available today as the Merck Index of chemical compounds — was published as a guide for doctors and pharmacists.
Merck’s German operations fared poorly during the two world wars. In the First World War, the United States subsidiary Merck and Co. was expropriated. The Second World War saw Merck’s Darmstadt headquarters decimated and all of its subsidiaries expropriated. (It reestablished itself in Asia, Latin America and the US in the 1970s.)
For Merck in America, however, the war years were ones of momentous discoveries. In 1944 it, along with Rutger University in New Jersey, developed streptomycin to fight tuberculosis and also succeeded in synthesizing cortisone.
When this ad ran in Chemistry in Canada in 1950, another decade of innovation was launched that saw the development of vaccines for such childhood diseases as measles and mumps. In Canada in 1965, Merck acquired Charles E. Frosst Ltd. of Montreal, creating Merck-Frosst Canada Inc. as its Canadian subsidiary and pharmaceutical research facility. It closed in 2010 but a year later reemerged as Merck Canada.
Today, Merck Canada carries on the tradition of innovation of its German founder Friedrich Jacob Merck. From its headquarters in Kirkland, Que., Merck markets more than 530 pharmaceutical, consumer and animal health products in Canada and has expanded its pharmaceutical therapies for the fields of virology, oncology and diabetes.