Sterling Drug was founded in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1901 by two childhood friends, William E. Weiss and Albert H. Diebold, to manufacture and sell a pain-relieving preparation called "Neuralgine." The company's original name was Neuralgyline. Within a few years, Weiss and Diebold realized that expansion required more product lines and that this would be best obtained by acquisition. This policy continued throughout the life of the organization. At least 130 companies were acquired directly or indirectly between 1902 and 1986. In 1913, Weiss and Diebold established intangible assets (trademarks, patents, and copyrights) and tangible assets (offices and plants). By 1914, the company set-up proprietary agencies for overseas trading. Weiss and Diebold changed the name of the company in 1917 from Neuralgyline, which was difficult to say, to Sterling Products.
Sterling Products benefited from World War I. Because supplies of drugs from Germany were cutoff by the Allied blockade, they established the Winthrop Company to manufacture the active ingredients. After the war, Sterling acquired the American Bayer Company in December 1918. They established a separate subsidiary, the Bayer Company, to market Bayer Aspirin. During the 1930s, Winthrop made Sterling a leader in the pharmaceutical field with such renowned products as Luminal, the original phenobarbitol; Salvarsan and Neo-Salvarsan, the first effective drugs in the treatment of syphilis; Prontosil, the first of the sulfa drugs; and Atabrine, the synthetic antimalarial that replaced quinine during World War II. The company expanded overseas in 1938, and eventually operated about seventy plants in about forty countries. Sterling was especially profitable in Latin America. By 1942, the use of Sterling Products as a name was confusing and could not be licensed to conduct business in some states. Therefore, the company namechanged to Sterling Drug, Inc.
In 1988, in order to avoid a hostile takeover by Hofmann-LaRoche, Sterling became a division of Eastman Kodak and remained one until 1994 when Kodak disposed of its health-related businesses. This left Sterling broken up with Sanofi purchasing Sterling's ethical business; Nycomed of Norway purchasing the diagnostic imaging; and SmithKline Beecham purchasing the worldwide over-the counter pharmaceutical business.
Collins, Joseph C. and John R. Gwilt. "The Life Cycle of Sterling Drug, Inc."
Bulletin for the History of Chemistry
, Volume 25, Number 1, 2000.