American Cyanamid

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American Cyanamid[1]
Traded asNYSEACY
FateMerged with American Home Products in 1994
FoundedJuly 22, 1907 (1907-07-22)[1]
FounderFrank Washburn
Defunct1994 (1994)
HeadquartersOne Cyanamid Plaza, ,
United States[1]

American Cyanamid Company was a leading American conglomerate which became one of the nation's top 100 manufacturing companies during the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Fortune 500 listings at the time.[citation needed] Founded by Frank Washburn in 1907, the company grew to over 100,000 employees worldwide, and had over 200,000 shareholders by the mid-1970s. Its stock was traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ACY. It was repeatedly reorganized after the mid-1990s, merged with other firms, and saw brands and divisions sold or spun off. The bulk of the former company is now part of Pfizer, with smaller portions belonging to BASF, Procter & Gamble and other firms.

Although originally a manufacturer of agricultural chemicals the product line was soon broadened into many different types of industrial chemicals and specialty chemicals. The company then diversified into synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, surgical products, plastics, and inorganic pigments prior to World War II; and later added, by acquisitions, cosmetic and toiletry products, perfumes, building products, home building, and several smaller product categories following World War II.

Product lines[edit]

Lederle Laboratories - maker of Pipercillia (a penicillin substitute for those who were allergic), Centrum, Stresstabs vitamins and Orimune the Sabin oral polio vaccine - was Cyanamid's pharmaceutical division.[2] Davis & Geck was the company's medical device operation, managed as a part of Lederle (not as a stand-alone division of Cyanamid). Its Consumer Products division included Shulton products, primarily Old Spice cologne and after-shave lotion, Breck shampoo, and Pine-Sol household cleaner; a variety of fine fragrance products were sold under licenses, including such brand names as Nina Ricci, Pierre Cardin, Tabac, and others. Melmac was Cyanamid's trademark for plastic kitchenware (produced and marketed by other firms, licensing the Melmac name).[3][4]

Legal issues[edit]

Cyanamid was involved in the tetracycline litigation.

In its last years, the company was involved in numerous legal issues related to its earlier environmental pollution. During the 1970s, tens of millions of dollars were spent on effluent treatment – such as a $15-million tertiary water treatment plant in Bound Brook, New Jersey, which returned to the Raritan River water that was cleaner than the river itself. Tens of millions more were spent in efforts to clean up large wastewater pools which had decades of accumulation of toxic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic chemicals. These are considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be among the most toxic chemical waste sites in the U.S. Cyanamid merged with American Home Products in 1994, and AHP changed its name to Wyeth which was then purchased by Pfizer in 2009. Responsibility for the clean-up of these sites remained with the site owner during these corporate transitions.[5][6] Remediation began at Bound Brook in 2007[7] and Pfizer took over the site in 2009.[8]

The 575-acre Superfund site at Bound Brook-Bridgewater had a history of flooding. It was flooded in the 1930s and again in August 1971 during Hurricane Doria, at which time the plant sustained major damage to its facilities and equipment. In 2011, during Hurricane Irene the site once again flooded, but this time all manufacturing had ended and all buildings had been torn down. However, impounds and wastesites remained with consequent leakage of benzene and numerous other chemicals into the Raritan River and adjacent land, apparently including residential sites.[9] Subsequent testing showed no evident danger to humans, but the calamity intensified the extensive cleanup work already underway and the EPA announced another remediation plan for the site in September 2012.[10]

In the United Kingdom, the company was involved in a well-known legal case, American Cyanamid Co. g N°.1) v Ethicon Ltd. (1975), which set the test for awarding an interim injunction in England and Wales and set down what became known to lawyers as the American Cyanamid principles.[11] The American Cyanamid principles are also applied under public procurement law when the high court determines whether to lift the automatic suspension of the power to award a public contract when an application has been made to the court to challenge the lawfulness of a proposed contract award.[12]

Acquisition and breakup[edit]

The company merged with American Home Products (AHP) in 1994. At that time, the purchase price, $9.5 billion, made it the second-largest industrial acquisition in U.S. history to that point. American Home Products eventually changed its name to Wyeth Corporation (one of its subsidiaries), and in 2009 Wyeth merged with Pfizer, becoming a subsidiary of the world's largest pharmaceutical company.

After the AHP acquisition, the Cyanamid conglomerate was disassembled over a period of years. The Pigments division was sold to National Lead Company. The Old Spice product line, and some others, were sold to Procter and Gamble. Formica Corporation was taken private in a management buyout, and later went through a series of ownership changes, and is currently owned by Fletcher Building, headquartered in New Zealand.

The $1.7 billion agricultural business was sold in 2000 to the German chemical giant BASF, raising BASF agricultural sales to $3.6 billion (1999 pro-forma), making it one of the top three agricultural companies in the world.

Most of the chemical businesses of American Cyanamid are now operated by a spun-off successor company known as Cytec. Cytec was acquired by Solvay Group in December 2015 to form the Cytec Solvay Group based in Brussels, Belgium.

The American Cyanamid compound in Wayne, New Jersey later served as the headquarters of Toys R Us.

See also[edit]


  • Kepos, Paula, ed. (December 17, 1993). International directory of company histories. 8. St. James Press. pp. 23–26. ISBN 155862323X.
  • Ingham, John N (September 1983). Biographical dictionary of American business leaders. ISBN 978-0-313-23907-6.
  • "American Chemical Industries". Industrial & Engineering Chemistry. 22 (3): 301–302. 1930. doi:10.1021/ie50243a025.
  • Richards, Bill (January 1, 1979). "Women Say They Had to Be Sterilized to Hold Jobs".


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