George W. Merck was born in New York City, to George Friedrich and Friedrike (Schenck) Merck. His father had emigrated from Germany in 1891 to oversee the new office of E. Merck and Company at 62 Wall Street. He was raised in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, where he had access to Thomas Edison's workshop. He graduated from Harvard College with a B.S. in chemistry in 1915. Both his parents were Christians. While there, he edited The Harvard Lampoon.
World War I prevented him from pursuing an advanced degree in Germany. Instead, he joined his father at the company. He was made president of the company in 1925, succeeding his father shortly before his death, while his father became chairman of the board. During the interwar years, he oversaw Merck's involvement in the development of synthetic vitamins, sulfas, antibiotics, and hormones. During World War II, he led the War Research Service, which initiated the U.S. biological weapons program with Frank Olson. He was on the cover of Time magazine on August 18, 1952, illustrating a story about the American drug industry.
In 1951, Merck donated 2600 acres of forest and farmland to be used for public use. This tract of land is in Rupert, Vermont. After his death, the area was renamed the Merck Forest and Farmland Foundation which seeks to educate about sustainable farming and forest agriculture. It is a popular destination for hikers and campers.
Merck was awarded the Medal for Merit for his contribution to the war effort, and the Industry Medal of the American Chemical Society, as well as honorary doctorates from several universities. He served as president of the Manufacturing Chemists' Association from 1949 to 1952 and was also on the board of the National Science Foundation.
- New York Community Trust George W. Merck 1894 to 1957
- Merck Forest and Farm Center: Visitor Center Map
- Bachrach, Fabian (November 10, 1957). "George W. Merck Dies At Age Of 63; Head Of Pharmaceutical Firm Won Medal Of Merit For Work As U.S. Adviser". The New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
George Wilhelm Merck, chairman of Merck Co., Inc., manufacturing chemists of Rahway, died today of a cerebral hemorrhage that he had suffered at his home in Llewellyn Park here. He was taken to Orange Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His age was 63.
- "Died". Time. November 18, 1957.
George Wilhelm Herman Emanuel Merck, 63, towering (6 ft. 5 in.) chairman (since 1949) and longtime president (1925-50) of Merck & Co., Inc., the mass-producing drug and chemicals manufacturer that was launched as a pharmacy in Darmstadt, Germany in 1668 by his ancestors; of a cerebral hemorrhage; in West Orange, N.J. Devoted to company activities, with an exuberant capacity for work, Merck directed the Government's wartime research on biological warfare, built his company mostly on good will ('Medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits').
- "Rosedale Cemetery Walking Guide of Notable Interments" (PDF). Retrieved November 8, 2022.