Sigma Chemical Company


Sigma's early history

The company's roots spring from 1934 in St. Louis, MO, when two brothers, Aaron Fischer and Bernard Fischlowitz, launched a small consulting firm. The two chemical engineers named their partnership Midwest Consultants - parent company of Sigma Chemical Company - and began to help St. Louis businesses produce a variety of specialty products including cosmetics, shoe dressings, and adhesives and inks for cardboard packaging. The firm incorporated in 1935 and hired Dan Broida, another chemical engineer out ofWashington University in St. Louis, to manage the company's growing consulting and production businesses.

During World War II, Midwest manufactured ammunition components and made felt and paper parts for signal flares. In addition, saccharin was in high demand and short supply. To fill the need, Broida hired new chemists and chemical engineers, gathered equipment (including bathtubs for acid tanks) and formed Sigma Chemical Company as a division of Midwest Consultants. For a year, major distributing companies bought saccharin as fast as Sigma could product it. When the war ended, however, supplies of many raw materials again became plentiful and effectively forced Sigma out of the market.

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In its search for a new direction, Sigma's turn toward research biochemicals came in the form of Lou Berger, a friend of Broida who had completed a MS degree in biochemistry at theWashington University in St. Louis School of MedicineunderNobel LaureatesCarl and Gerty Cori. Berger asked if he could occasionally use Sigma's laboratory. As a graduate student, one of Berger's tasks had been to extractadenosine triphosphate(ATP) from rabbit muscle. ATP is a major source of energy in living organisms and was used extensively in the Cori's research.

The Coris and other biomedical researchers at this time were involved in studies requiring ATP in quantity. Berger suggested that Sigma produce the compound on a larger scale and taught his process to Sigma personnel. A small ad in a scientific journal brought orders and Broida expanded production. Within two years, Sigma offered eight additional ATP derivatives and raised purity levels.[3]

In the early 1950s, the world's leading biochemists gathered in Atlantic City for the Federation Meetings. Sigma exhibited its slim offering of nine products. Nobel-Prize scientists such as Arthur Kornberg, Serva Occhoa and Otto Meyerhoff congratulated Broida on the excellent quality of his products. The exposure propelled Sigma into recognition by the international biochemical research community.[3]

Sigma entered the next decades with broad expansion into biochemicals and clinical products. In 1964, Sigma London was formed to establish a more active position in the market in Great Britain. Two more foreign subsidiaries were formed - Sigma Israel (1970) and Sigma Munich in West Germany (1974).[3]

Aldrich's early history

Alfred R. Bader, an Austrian immigrant and chemistry graduate student at Harvard University, entertained the idea of starting a company to sell research chemicals in 1949 on the suggestion of the storeroom supervisor at Harvard's chemistry department. Acting on the premise that chemists needed a wider array of research chemicals and better service, Bader and attorney Jack Eisendrath founded Aldrich Chemical Company inMilwaukee, WI, in 1951[4].

Aldrich offered 1-methyl-3-nitro-1-nitrosofuanidine (MNNG) as it first product, widely used as a methylating reagent. Other products offered in the early 50s include 3-hydroxypyridine, which later became one of Aldrich's best-selling products; ethyl diazoacetate; tetranitomethane; and ethanedithiol. From 1951 to 1954, Bader developed important collaborations through visits to chemical producers in Europe and the UK. The remainder of the 1950s was characterized by rapid growth in sales and in the number of products offered.

Aldrich's Rare Chemical Library (RCL) grew out of the collecting and salvaging of valuable research samples of retiring or deceased academic researchers and from other sources. Large-scale contributions of samples to the library have come from such noteworthy chemists as Henry Gilman, George Wittig, Robert Woodward, and Louis and Mary Fieser. RCL has led to the discovery and commercialization by others of some valuable chemical commodities, e.g., Roundup (Monsanto Co.), based on lead compounds obtained from the RCL.

The late 50s and early 60s witnessed the growing importance of custom synthesis and bulk sales at Aldrich. Over the years, these functions evolved into Sigma-Aldrich Fine Chemicals (SAFC), currently one of four strategic business units within Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

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A significant opportunity in the 1970s came when Professor H. C. Brown of Purdue University asked Aldrich to further develop and commercialize the hydroboration technology and organoborane chemistry that he had developed and patented. This led to the establishment of Aldrich-Boranes, Inc., a wholly owned Aldrich subsidiary created to manufacture hydroboration reagents and products. Some of the first compounds manufactured by Aldrich-Boranes were borane-THF, 9-BBN, and borane-methyl sulfide.[3]

After the merger

Aldrich Chemical Co. merged with Sigma International, Ltd. to form Sigma-Aldrich Corporation in August 1975, when changing trends in chemical research confirmed the synergy to be realized from their complementary product offerings[5]. Annual double-digit growth was the norm in the 80s and 90s, with significant expansion in facilities, major acquisitions and ventures into new market sectors. In December 2000 Sigma-Aldrich launched a strategic plan focusing the Company on "Leadership in Life Science and High Technology." Other key initiatives on service and process improvements and a strong Internet presence have strengthened Sigma-Aldrich's current position as a leading technology company