Friedrich Bayer (1825–80)

Friedrich Bayer was the son of a silk worker, a member of a family established in the textile industry of Wuppertal, who with others from the same background, established one of the principal international chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

He was apprenticed at the age of 14 to Wesenfeld & Co, dealers in chemicals, became particularly involved with dyestuffs, and began on a small business on his own account as a distributor of dyestuffs, developing a trade in aniline dyes as well as natural dyestuffs. In 1863 he established a factory employing three men in Wuppertal-Barmen with his partner Johann Friedrich Weskott (1821-1876). The business grew and by the time of Bayer’s death in 1881 it had 300 employees.

In 1881 the business became a joint stock company and grew rapidly both in Germany and abroad in the following decades, so that by 1913 about 80 per cent of its revenue was derived from exports. Much of its success was due to Carl Duisberg (1861-1935) a member of a ribbon-weaving family from Wuppertal who studied chemistry at the universities of Gottingen and Jena, and set up a research laboratory for Bayer at Wuppertal-Elberfeld, and was chairman of the company from 1912 until his death.

In 1894 Bayer recruited Felix Hoffman (1868-1946), a native of Ludwigsburg who had studied chemistry at Munich. In 1897 he found a means of synthesising acetylsalicylic acid, which was a modification of a natural substance derived from willow bank, long used in folk medicine, an unstable form of which had been prepared by the Frenchman Charles Frederic Gerhardt (1816-56) in 1853. The large-scale production of new painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug was rapidly developed and it was launched as Aspirin in 1899, and sold world-wide. Hoffmann retired in 1928 and spent the latter years of his life in Switzerland. Under the Third Reich his name was expunged from the records of Bayer due to his Jewish origins.

In 1891 Bayer purchased the alzirin-red factory established by Dr Karl Leverkus (1804-89) north of Cologne, and large tracts of adjacent land along the banks of the River Rhine. The factory was greatly expanded from 1895, and in 1912 the headquarters of the Bayer company were moved from Wuppertal-Elberfeld to the community that came to be called Leverkusen.