The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 2 of 11)
By MARK HOUSER
images courtesy bayer
Founded in the Rhine River valley during the same period as the American Civil War, the pharmaceutical, agricultural and chemical conglomerate Bayer was almost a century old when it first put a footprint in Pittsburgh in 1958 as Mobay Chemical — a joint venture with Monsanto — marketing polyurethane.
Two years later, Bayer opened its campus on the Parkway West in Robinson Township, which soon became the global corporation’s North American headquarters. Known for a time as Miles Laboratories, the German firm had to wait until 1994 to buy back U.S. rights to its brand, which had been seized and sold in the wake of World War I.
ast year the multinational firm spun off its materials science business as Covestro, which kept its U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh while the streamlined life sciences business relocated to New Jersey. All told, Bayer and Covestro employ more than 2,000 people in the region, including 1,000 at the former Medrad, a medical imaging innovator owned by Bayer since 2006.
- Friedrich Bayer (pictured) founded the company in 1863, using the coal tar created during coke manufacturing to make synthetic dyes, which he sold to a growing textile market.
- At the beginning of the 20th century, Bayer’s chemists synthesized and trademarked two famous drugs: aspirin and heroin. Yes, that heroin, which was marketed for decades as a non-addictive cough syrup.
- Bayer’s U.S. assets and trademark were seized and sold at auction after World War I. The company couldn’t be called Bayer again in the United States until 1995, after it bought back its brand name from Sterling.
- Gerhard Domagk won the Nobel Prize in 1939 for discovering that sulfa drugs could stop infection, but German authorities would not let him accept it. Sulfa drugs would be used by soldiers on both sides in World War II.
- Bayer succeeded Alcoa as sponsor of the giant Pittsburgh sign on Mount Washington, but after two decades the company declined to renew its lease. The sign’s future now is uncertain.
- During the anthrax scare after 9/11, Bayer slashed the asking price for its Cipro tablets when U.S. officials hinted at breaking the company’s patent.
- This spring, Bayer launched a bid to buy Monsanto, its former Mobay Chemical business partner, to create an agricultural titan combining Bayer’s pesticides and Monsanto’s seeds.
The company’s oldest photo, dating to 1863.
“Bayer moved its headquarters, but Covestro is here — and Covestro is the company we ought to follow, because it’s sort of the lineal descendant of the Bayer that came to Pittsburgh in the 1950s [as Mobay]. Bayer pioneered things like polyurethanes and polycarbonate materials, which we use in almost everything today, from cell phones to bicycles. Just recently, Covestro sponsored an around-the-world, solar-powered airplane made of these lightweight polyurethanes and polycarbonates — and this plane, the Solar Impulse, has circumnavigated the globe without any fuel other than that which came from the sun. That’s the kind of thing these modern materials can do today, those materials whose early manufacture and applications were pioneered here in Pittsburgh ... I met Paige Kassalen, the young woman who is on the ground crew of the Solar Impulse. She’s from Mt. Lebanon. She graduated as an electrical engineering student from Virginia Tech, and she first got her job at Covestro because as a student she built her own solar-powered unit attached to her purse which could power her cell phone. She wrote a 300-word essay, and that got her on the crew of the Solar Impulse ... We shouldn’t worry about our brands going global. They’re part of us. Bayer was here since the ’50s, now Covestro is a spinoff, but it happened with Westinghouse, too. There were many spinoffs from the original Westinghouse Air Brake, and we should be proud of all of them and take pride wherever we can.”
— Andrew Masich, president and CEO, Sen. John Heinz History Center