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The Aldrich story.

R. K. Merton, the sociologist of science, writes of "the seemingly paradoxical character of property [i.e. papers] in the scientific enterprise... The more widely scientists make their intellectual property freely available to others, the more securely it becomes identified as their property... The greatest ambition of a productive scientist is to do the kind of work that will be much used and much esteemed by fellow-scientists best qualified to assess its worth." Hence the urge to publish papers, while scorning the businessman who merely accumulates money. But sometimes the businessman can do more for chemistry than the selfless research scientist, however brilliant and hard-working.

In the past half-century the practical side of research in chemistry has been revolutionized. Fifty years ago physical chemists had to be good glass-blowers, since they made most of their apparatus themselves. Now most physical chemists work with apparatus bought off the shelf, from cheap thermostats to nuclear magnetic resonance machines costing $500,000.

Fifty years ago organic chemists carried out five or 10-step syntheses starting with simple compounds found in the Eastman Chemical Co. catalogue, which listed 4,000 chemicals. Now, organic chemists routinely carry out 15 and 20 step syntheses, starting with one or more compounds among the more than 50,000 offered by the Aldrich Chemical Company.

Without these chemicals many syntheses would be five or six steps longer, and require perhaps an additional year of work by the graduate student. Furthermore, the research of many physical chemists depends on examining in a spectrometer, calorimeter, or whatnot, a series of compounds made available by Aldrich which they would have neither the inclination nor the ability to synthesize.

How did Aldrich Chemical Co. come upon the scene? The foresight of a government bureaucrat concerned with planning science? The story is more complex and more interesting.

The story begins with Alfred Bader, born in Vienna in 1924. Bader's father died when he was two weeks old. In 1938 Nazi laws forced him to drop out of school, and he spent six months buying and selling stamps to earn money before being sent by his mother to England. In 1939 he entered Brighton Technical College, but in May 1940 he was picked up by detectives during the Sunday school break at the Middle Street Synagogue in Brighton. This was a time of alarm in England: Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and now France were being swept up by the German war machine, sometimes assisted by Nazi sympathizers inside the countries. In an act which can be understood only by the panic of the time, on May 12, the British government arrested all German and Austrian males between 16 and 60 years of age living in an area near the coast. From May 16 on, men and women began to be rounded up from other parts of the country. Altogether close to 30,000 refugees were interned.

Canada's future

leading citizens

The Canadian government was persuaded to accept custody of 7,000 "dangerous Nazis", and did not realize that the British government had shipped out of the country not only 3,000 prisoners of war and some thousands of German civilians but also, to fill up vacant spaces in the prison ships, many bitterly anti-Nazi refugees. The boats coming to Canada brought perhaps the most impressive group of immigrants ever landed on Canadian soil: 20 or 30 years later many of the refugees would rank among the outstanding academics, artists, and musicians in Canada. The story of their captivity in Canada, of their attempts to have their separate status recognized, and of their eventual release is told in fascinating detail by Eric Koch who himself was brought over on the Ettrick (Deemed Suspect Methuen Toronto 1980).

Bader arrived in Canada on the Sobieski along with Walter Hitschfeld, later vice-principal of McGill University and Ernest Eliel, President of the American Chemical Society.

The prisoners were sent to various camps: Eliel to one deep in the forests of New Brunswick where he cut wood; Bader to an old fortress on an island on the Richelieu River near Lake Champlain. In every camp the refugees organized themselves into study and cultural groups. International Student Service supplied text books and McGill University allowed the internees to take junior and senior matriculation examinations in June and September of 1941. Bader passed both before being released in November 1941.

He enrolled in engineering chemistry in Queen's University, Kingston, and says that "by my third year in college I had discovered the joys of dating, an expensive pastime, so that by March of that year I was short of cash. Looking through the university calendar, I saw a scholarship in public speaking, $50. I tried and won. One of the judges, the vice-principal of Queen's University, urged me to join the debating society..... I joined and that year won the Dominion of Canada debating championship - German accent and wartime notwithstanding."

While studying for his bachelor's degree, Bader worked for two summers with Murphy Paint Company of Montreal and found that he could quickly formulate a lacquer or varnish to meet a customer's needs. He enjoyed working in industry with its entrepreneurial challenges. After graduating in 1945 he worked with Murphy paint until the summer of 1946. Its president, Harry Thorp, then gave him $1800, suggesting that he get his PhD and become an even more useful paint chemist. Bader decided to get an MSc first, and went to Queen's to work with A.F. McKay. Bader enjoyed working beside McKay in the laboratory and became a skilled and enthusiastic experimentalist. In 1948, he, with McKay, published his first paper in the Journal of Organic Chemistry describing the eight stereoisomers of 9, 10, 12, 13-tetrahydroxystearic acid obtainable by oxidizing linoleic acid.

Bader found that he liked making compounds and decided to continue to the PhD. He applied to the two schools he considered best in the world for organic chemistry, Harvard and the ETH in Zurich, and was accepted by both. He chose to go to Harvard because Louis Fieser offered some financial support at Harvard, the ETH none.

Fieser gave Bader a problem in napthoquinone chemistry and thereafter left him alone - very different from A.F. McKay. However, he enjoyed many discussions with the young members of the department - R.B. Woodward, Gilbert Stork, Martin Ettlinger - and graduated with a PhD in two years. During this time he taught everyone in the organic laboratories to make diazomethane from 1-methyl-3-nitro-1-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG), a reaction discovered by McKay. Bader had told Fieser about this reaction, and Fieser made the preparation of MNNG an experiment in the undergraduate laboratory course. Bader took all the MNNG prepared by the students, purified it, and put it in a big bottle in his lab, where an apparatus was set up permanently for making diazomethane.

At one stage Fieser wanted Bader to make 2-isopropylnaphthaquinone from 2-isopropylphenol, and Bader ordered 500 grams of the latter from Eastman. "Six weeks later it still had not come, and I went to see Warren stockwood who was in charge of the storeroom at Harvard, and asked his advice. He handed me a sheet of Harvard chemistry department notepaper and told me to write to them: "See what happens." I received a form postcard - I wish I had kept it; I would frame it. It simply said that my order had been received and would I please not add to the paperwork; Eastman would ship the material whenever possible. At that point I said to myself, "My gosh, if that is the way the fine chemical business is operated in the United States, maybe I have a place in it."

"On graduation from Harvard, I joined the research laboratories of the Paint Division of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Milwaukee (which had taken over Murphy Paint Company), and became good friends with the director of research, Dr. Howard Gerhart. I asked Howard whether I might not start a tiny division within PPG to make and sell research chemicals, and he shook his head and said no, that wouldn't fly. He believed Eastman Kodak so well entrenched that one just could not compete."

How Aldrich got its name

Bader and a Milwaukee attorney, Jack Eisendrath, decided to start a company of their own to sell research chemicals not offered by Eastman. They incorporated on August 17, 1951, with the minimum required capital of $500, each of them putting in $250. They tossed a coin for the name of the company. Eisendrath won, and named it after his pretty fiancee, Betty Aldrich. They worked in their spare time, doing paperwork, storage, weighing, labelling, packaging and invoicing in Jack's office. Their first offering Was MNNG. They added other compounds not listed by Kodak, and moved into a garage rented for $25 a month. Sales in the first year were $1705 and, since they drew no salaries, profit was $20. In the second year sales climbed to $5400; in the third, to $15,000.

In 1954 PPG decided to move its research laboratories from Milwaukee to Springdale, near Pittsburgh. Bader liked Milwaukee, and chose to quit PPG to work full time at Aldrich. Gerhart said then, "Alfred, you are a very good chemist. You can make a great many things but you are not a businessman. I am convinced that within a couple of years, Aldrich will go bankrupt." And he offered to take him back as soon as this happened; in the meantime he kept him on as a consultant.

Neither Bader nor Eisendrath had any money to put into the company, and so they persuaded a friend to buy 33% of the company for $25,000: $5,000 immediately, then $1,000 a month for 20 months. After seven months the friend withdrew his money in a pique over a consulting fee of $100 that Bader had paid to Martin Ettlinger without consulting him or Eisendrath. The incident highlighted the difficulties of making all decisions in concert with his partners, when they were present little or none of the time. Over several years Bader managed to buy out Eisendrath thus gaining sole control of Aldrich.

The buy-outs were possible (probably only barely possible) because of rising sales, which amounted to $34,000 in the fourth year. The company moved from the garage to a 1,000 [ft.sup.2] laboratory, and hired two secretaries and a technician, the start of a long period of expansion. Bader decided to combine resale with production to increase his catalogue. He spoke fluent German and passable French, and so started spending a month or two in Europe each year visiting small and medium sized companies and buying chemicals.

The future

was biochemistry

Aldrich became the largest supplier of fine chemicals in the world. However, Bader had decided that the area of greatest growth for fine chemicals lay in biochemistry. In 1975, after many difficulties, Aldrich merged with Sigma of St. Louis, the largest supplier of biochemicals in the U.S. in 1990 Sigma-Aldrich was the 80th largest chemical corporation in the U.S. with annual sales of $440,000,000 (22.6% more than in 1988). The company employs about 4,100 people: about 3,000 in the U.S. and 1,100 in subsidiaries in Switzerland, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

Obviously, Bader had to be more than a good organic chemist to succeed; he needed to have a good sense of finance and to hang in toughly in difficult moments. Bader identified a need and satisfied it. It is hard to exaggerate the quality of his services. He stocks an immense range of chemicals, catalogued by computer, and available in a few days after a telephone call to Milwaukee. He publishes Aldrichimica Acta, a quarterly magazine delivered to interested organic chemists without charge, which carries review articles on new reactions as well as notes on new techniques and advertisements for newly-introduced chemicals.

The Aldrich advertisements are unique: my colleague George Just tells me that when he receives his copy of the Journal of Organic Chemistry, he first reads the Aldrich advertisement at the back; this is often more important than any article in the journal. No other advertisements teach so much chemistry.

All this comes about because Bader remains an organic chemist. He had a very creditable record of publishing papers while at Harvard and at Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and for many years has been a frequent visitor to labs of active organic chemists, listening to them describe their work, interested in their problems, and (of course) interested in buying any compound they have made in large amounts and which he thinks others might want.

Bader has also become interested in the history of chemistry. At the 199th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston in April 1990, he presented a paper in a symposium on Kekule's dreams. This two-day symposium commemorated the 100th anniversary of Kekule's speech to the German Chemical Society in which he revealed for the first time how his ideas on the structure of alkanes and of benzene had come to him in dreams in London and in Ghent. In Boston there were impassioned speeches in support of Kekule's claim to have introduced the idea of structure into chemistry, and others in support of rivals such as Butlerov. Bader pressed with vigor the claims of the Austrian chemist and physicist Loschmidt. Loschmidt's claims can now be assessed more easily because Aldrich has republished his original monograph of 1861 showing a cyclic structure for benzene.

While still a student, Bader became a collector of Dutch paintings of the period of Rembrandt. Many of them are featured on the cover of Aldrichimica Acta with brief essays inside. This started at Harvard, where one day Fieser found him leaving the chemistry department in the middle of the day, and asked him where he was going. He said, "Over to the Fogg (Museum) where Jakob Rosenberg is lecturing on Rembrandt." Fieser replied in mock disgust, "Alfred, you haven't made up your mind whether you want to be a chemist or an art historian". Bader now notes, "Well, some 40 years later I still haven't and I am much happier for it."

He is a subtle and perceptive critic of Dutch painting, and his gifts to the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre of Queen's University help to make it the finest collection of any university in Canada.

Bader's other interest is the Bible. Although friendly with orthodox neighbours in Vienna, Bader seems to have grown up in a generally non-religious atmosphere, and does not remember looking at a Bible until he was 14. But two years later in Canada, just turned 16 and the youngest prisoner in his internment camp, he had a lot of time to read the Bible. He takes its message seriously enough to have taught Sunday school in a Milwaukee temple for 32 years.

The rise of Sigma-Aldrich is one of the outstanding success stories in a period when such success has been rare in America. it should become a classic case for study in business schools.

But recently the story has taken a curious and unexpected twist. Bader, whose generosity is legendary (he has funded chemical research grants, supported chemistry awards, and made gifts to several universities and other institutions), sold on August 15, 1991, a "call-option" covered by 10,000 shares of his Sigma-Aldrich stock, in order to maximize a gift to Queen's University. However, his successor as chairman of Sigma-Aldrich and the company's chief operating officer claimed that Bader was "betting against the company", and he was not included in the slate of directors scheduled for stockholder approval at the annual meeting in May. It appears that Bader has also lost his unpaid position of Chairman Emeritus.

It is difficult for the layman in financial matters to understand these decisions, but all of us who have benefited from Barer's commitment to organic chemistry must feel a sadness at this apparent termination of his career. But so resourceful and energetic a man may well use his talents in unexpected ways in the years ahead.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Title Annotation:Aldrich Chemical Co., Canada
Author:Edward, John T.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:2684
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