Sterling Drug

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Sterling Drug
IndustryHealth care
FateAcquired by Bayer AG
Successorover the counter drugs-Bayer AG and Sanofi SA (ethical pharmaceuticals)
Headquarters90 Park Avenue New York, NY 10016
ProductsLehn & Fink, Bayer Aspirin, Phillips'
ParentEastman Kodak (until 1994)

Sterling Drug was an American global pharmaceutical company, known as Sterling-Winthrop, Inc. after the merger with Winthrop-Stearns Inc. (which 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.

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 AG granted Sterling the rights to the "Bayer" brand to sell aspirin. In return, Bayer was allowed back into its former Latin American markets. In 1922, 50% of Sterling's new holding company, Winthrop, was given to the German Bayer company, while the American Bayer retained the rights to use Bayer brand.[4] In 1923 Sterling purchased a 25% interest in The Centaur Company, manufacturer of Charles Henry Fletcher's, Fletcher's Castoria[5]


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.[6]

1960s to 1970s[edit]

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 1990s[edit]

In 1988, Sterling was acquired by Eastman Kodak for $5.1 billion.[7][8] In 1993, Eastman Kodak/Sterling Winthrop partnered with a French pharmaceutical company Elf Sanofi (now known as Sanofi Aventis).[7] 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.[9] 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.[10][11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]


  1. ^ Emmerson, A. M.; Jones, A. M. (2003). "The Quinolones: Decades of Development and Use" (PDF). 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 15 March 2019.
  3. ^ "General Aniline Linden, New Jersey". Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  4. ^ "Foreigh Trade Strategies of I.G. Farben after World War I" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  5. ^ The New York Times. February 9, 1923. p. 24 (col. 1). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Pepling, Rachel S. (2005). "Phenobarbital". Chemical & Engineering News. 83 (25). Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Collins, Joseph C.; Gwilt, John R. (2000). "The Life Cycle of Sterling Drug, Inc" (PDF). Bull. Hist. Chem. 25 (1): 22–27.
  8. ^ Feder, Barnaby J. (January 25, 1988). "Kodak's Diversification Plan Moves Into a Higher Gear". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Kodak to Sell Drug Unit for $1.68 Billion". Los Angeles Times. June 24, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  10. ^ "health". Los Angeles Times. June 30, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  11. ^ "Aspirin". Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  12. ^ Associated Press (August 30, 1994). "Kodak to Sell Remaining Sterling Winthrop Unit : Drugs: SmithKline Beecham will buy the consumer health products business for $2.925 billion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Solid Player Leaps To Big Leagues With Lysol Buy". Chicago Tribune. September 30, 1994. Retrieved April 9, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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