Three different groups of Abbott cancels appear on the battleship proprietary stamps. They belong to the Abbott Alkaloidal Company headquartered in Chicago, IL, the C. W. Abbott Company based in Baltimore, MD, and Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co of Worcester, MA and later Boston. While these companies shared the name Abbott, they occupied different niches in the drug, patent medicine and nostrum businesses and ultimately developed along very different paths. Abbott Alkaloidal Co flourished and grew into the giant Abbott Laboratories, still a massive player in the current pharmaceutical industry, although itself charting a new course as of January 1, 2013.
ABBOTT ALKALOIDAL CO. – MANUFACTURER
C W Abbott Co manufactured one significant product – Abbott’s Bitters, a special type of medicinal digestive aid. This brand was so distinctive and so alluring that it ultimately shed its medicinal origins and, in the subsequent Jazz Era, became the mixer of choice for Manhattan cocktails, assuring that it would remain a topic of interest among mixed drink connoisseurs into our own time. However, any discussion of the C W Abbott Company would be incomplete unless it explored its great rivalry with J W Wuppermann, for these two companies clashed bitterly and incessantly for a quarter century over the manufacture and sale of a certain kind of bitters – angostura bitters – so Wuppermann is here treated as an honorary “Abbott” to provide the full picture.
C. W. ABBOTT COMPANY – MANUFACTURER
[+ J. W. WUPPERMANN – IMPORTER]
Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Company seems to have done a steady business through the heyday of great Patent Medicine Era in the 1890s and early 1900s, and then seemingly disappeared entirely.
ABBOTT’S MENTHOL PLASTER CO. – MANUFACTURER
ABBOTT ALKALOIDAL CO.
ABBOTT ALKALOIDAL CO. HANDSTAMPED CANCELS
ABBOTT ALKALOIDAL CO. PRINTED CANCELS
DR. WALTER CALVIN ABBOTT
Wallace Calvin Abbott was a physician and owner of the People’s Drug Store in Chicago who began his business career marketing Dr Abbott’s Tooth Ache Drops. He was born in Bridgewater, VT in 1857, studied at St Johnsbury College and Dartmouth, and graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1885. According to the historical time line section of Abbott Laboratories’ website, he first prepared ” ‘dosimetric granules’ in the apartment” above his drugstore about 1888. This pharmacological innovation was a process for distilling potentially poisonous and addictive liquid pain killing drugs such as codeine, morphine, quinine and strychnine, all derived from alkaloid compounds, into solid form. Distillation both obviated spoilage of the precious drugs and made their dissemination in the form of measured pill dosages both predictable and accurate. To exploit his new process, he established the Abbott Alkaloidal Co in 1888. By 1891, his venture had made him comfortable enough to build a Queen Anne style home located in the Ravenswood section of Chicago.
This house – re-purchased by the company in 1977 – still stands and was designated a historic landmark by Chicago in 2006. After the company incorporated in 1900, Dr Abbott himself, according to the company’s website, lived the life of a beloved eccentric, preferring to practice medicine and make house calls on his bicycle rather than laboring in the corporate boardroom.
DR. ALFRED S. BURDICK
In 1904, Dr Alfred S. Burdick joined Abbott, and he soon took on many of the administrative duties, ultimately succeeding Abbott as President of the Company. Abbott lived until 1921, long enough for the company to change its name in 1915 to Abbott Laboratories and to break ground for its first suburban office complex.
ABBOTT LABORATORIES FIRST INDUSTRIAL PARK
While he died a wealthy man, in an age of conspicuous ostentation, he seems to have lived relatively modestly, holding to both the Methodist faith and Republican views of the well-to-do of his era.
Abbott’s quiet and stable marriage to Clara Augusta Ingraham in 1886 yielded one daughter, Eleanor, born in 1899. She, in turn, graduated from Northwestern in 1922 and later must have persuaded her mother’s charitable foundation, established after her mother’s death, also in 1921, to make a million and a half dollar donation to Northwestern. While the gift was earmarked to stimulate the study of medical, chemical and surgical sciences, with the Foundation’s permission, the trustees of the school instead erected and dedicated in 1940 a dormitory called Abbott Hall in honor of Wallace and Clara, using the profits from room rental to fulfill the original grant purposes. During World War II, Abbott Hall housed the Navy’s Midshipmen Training School, whose most famous graduate was President John F Kennedy. Northwestern now uses Abbott Hall for graduate student housing. The Clara Abbott Foundation still exists to provide financial assistance and guidance to Abbott employees, retirees and their dependents. Eleanor married one Rollin Ford, who seems to have began his career as a chauffeur for Abbott Laboratories and was serving as the director of a gym facility for the Ravenswood Methodist Church at the time he and Eleanor met. She lived until 1960 and their estates apparently largely benefitted YMCA facilities, including a YMCA camp still functioning in Ryerson, MI where their son, a pilot killed in a military accident, had been a counselor. Eleanor Abbott Ford was a patroness of the arts and her name is memorialized on an arts center dedicated at Knox College in Galesberg, IL in 1964.
The business of Abbott Laboratories continued to prosper. In 1907 it fielded its first sales force of seven representatives, and by 1910, it had offices in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto, with a London agent representing its European interests, and business interests in India.
1917 ABBOTT TRADE ADVERTISEMENT
During World War I, it purchased from the Alien Property Custodian of the United States government patents and trademarks formerly held by German companies, and used these rights to manufacture drugs formerly produced by these German companies and their United States subsidiaries for the United States market, as well as inventing some important substitute compounds. Between the wars, the company became a publically held corporation by selling stock on the Chicago Stock Exchange in 1929.
ABBOTT STOCK CERTIFICATE
In this period, its major innovations were introducing Nembutal, an important anaesthetic, as well as Sodium Pentothal, commonly thought of as “truth serum.”
During World War II, it became a key producer of penicillin. In 1952, it introduced Erythrocin, an important antibiotic. In the latter part of the Twentieth Century, among other activities, it produced the cyclamate Sucaryl, a sugar substitute banned as a carcinogen in 1969; marketed Similac, an infant’s dietary supplement as well as Ensure, an “adult” nutritional supplement; engaged in AIDS research, ultimately developing the first AIDS diagnostic test; and, in the 1990s, developed Prevacid, still today touted endlessly on television as the answer to heartburn (although no longer owned or controlled by Abbott Laboratories), all the time growing larger through various mergers.
In 2009, Abbott lost a legal case, Abbott v. Sandoz, in which a national federal appellate court cleared up conflicting rulings by various other federal courts and made a significant ruling concerning a modern form of patents, called a “process patent,” that a second drug company that develops, through an admittedly different manufacturing process, the same formula as a patented drug does not infringe the first drug company’s patent, since the manufacturing process, if described in the patent (thus making it a “process patent”), is self-limiting to the process described.
1959 ABBOTT ADVERTISING TO DOCTORS
On January 1, 2013, Abbott, although a company boasting annual revenues exceeding $38 million and 90,000 employees, voluntarily spun off a portion of its business into a new company, AbbVie, claiming the new configuration could better exploit changing market conditions. The CEO of Abbott Laboratories continued as the CEO of the newer, smaller Abbott Laboratories, capitalized at $21.5 million. This company retained the medical products portion of its business, covering medical devices, nutritional care, diagnostics, and animal health. The Executive Vice President of the older Abbott Laboratories became CEO of AbbVie, capitalized at $17.4 million. The new company consisted of the proprietary pharmaceutical holdings of the former Abbott Laboratories, notably the drug Humira, an effective treatment of auto-immune diseases which retains patent protection until 2016. Stockholders of the parent company were automatically assigned proportional shares in the new company, which was immediately listed and separately traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Both companies remain headquartered outside of Chicago. On their websites, the new Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie both proudly retain the original Abbott Laboratories’ declaration that it was a “global citizen.” Abbott Laboratories states it sells its products in more than 150 countries, and employs approximately 69,000 people. AbbVie claims to transact business in over 170 countries, and has approximately 25,000 employees. It also inherited the parent company’s research centers located at its headquarters, in Massachusetts, California, China and Germany.
Just over a year into their split existences, the two companies still appear to be acting in sync with one other, even though the division portends that they will operate completely separately at some future time. Time will tell what ultimately lies in store for the new companies.
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014