Tracing the 175-year evolution of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer reveals the timeline of one of America's pioneering drug makers.

From its origins as a fledgling chemicals startup in 1849, Pfizer grew over nearly two centuries into a global healthcare conglomerate producing some of the best-selling medicines ever discovered.

1849-1950: EARLY HISTORY

Pfizer chemical plant
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1849 — Pfizer Founding

Charles Pfizer and his cousin Charles F. Erhart founded a chemicals business called Charles Pfizer & Company in Brooklyn, New York.

They produced an antiparasitic called santonin that was an early success.

1860s — Fermentation Technology

Pfizer built expertise in fermentation technology while boosting citric acid production, which drove major growth in the 1880s.

This know-how later helped enable mass production of penicillin.

1881 — Manhattan HQ

The company moved its administrative headquarters to Manhattan to be closer to the center of New York's business district.

1906 — $3 Million

Bolstered by citric acid sales, Pfizer's revenues exceeded $3 million this year for the first time.

1919 — Citric Acid Mass Production

Leveraging its background in fermentation, Pfizer commercialized the mass production of citric acid from sugar-metabolizing fungi, further advancing revenues.

1942 — Delaware Incorporation

As the company grew substantially, Pfizer incorporated in Delaware.

This helped pave the way for future expansion.

World War II — Penicillin Mass Production

To meet wartime demand, Pfizer utilized deep fermentation methods to mass produce penicillin for injured Allied soldiers.

They researched over 135,000 soil samples to improve yields.

1950 — Big Pharma Pivot

The innovative mass production of penicillin led Pfizer to pivot from a chemicals company into a research-based pharmaceutical enterprise developing new drugs.


a Pfizer drug
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1950s — Animal Testing

Pfizer established an animal health division with a 700-acre farm and research facility in Indiana.

They also began opening international offices to expand overseas.

1960 — R&D Heads to Connecticut

The company moved its medical research laboratories from New York to a new facility in Groton, Connecticut, enabling large-scale drug discovery.

1965 — John Powers

John Powers, Jr. became CEO, succeeding John McKeen and steering major growth.

1972 — Edmund Pratt

Pfizer appointed Edmund T. Pratt Jr. as new CEO.

He led expansion into new drug categories like cardiovascular and anti-inflammatories.

1980 — Feldene

Pfizer achieved its first blockbuster drug with Feldene anti-inflammatory, which exceeded $1 billion in sales.

This marked a new era.

1991 — Zoloft

Zoloft was approved, becoming one of Pfizer's most successful drugs ever with over $3 billion in 2005 sales.

1996 — Alzheimer’s & Hypertension Drugs

Pfizer secured approvals for Aricept Alzheimer's treatment and Norvasc hypertension drug.

1997 — Lipitor

A deal was struck to co-market Lipitor cholesterol medication, which became the world's top-selling drug.

1999 — Agouron

Expansion continued via acquisitions like cancer drug specialist Agouron.

2000 — World’s Second Largest Pharma Company

Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert and Pharmacia.

These massive mergers made it the world's 2nd biggest pharmaceutical company.


a Pfizer vaccine
© History Oasis

2001 — Henry McKinnell

Henry McKinnell was appointed CEO, succeeding William C. Steere, Jr.

He oversaw acquisitions strengthening Pfizer's drug portfolio.

2003 — Pharmacia

Pfizer merged with Pharmacia and acquired cancer drug specialist SUGEN, expanding into oncology medications.

2006 — Jeff Kindler

Attorney Jeff Kindler was named new CEO, embarking on cost-cutting initiatives.

2009 — Wyeth

In Pfizer’s largest deal ever, they acquired rival Wyeth for $68 billion along with its pneumonia vaccine.

2010 — Prevnar 13

The improved Prevnar 13 pneumonia vaccine was launched, making $6 billion in 2022 revenues.

2018 — Albert Bourla

Albert Bourla was promoted to CEO on January 1st, succeeding his mentor Ian Read.

2020 — COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine received emergency approvals, making $37 billion in 2022.

2021 — Paxlovid

Pfizer launched Paxlovid oral antiviral pill for COVID-19 treatment.

2022 — Arena & Biohaven

Key deals were struck for cancer drug maker Arena and migraine specialist Biohaven.

2023 — Seattle Genetics

Pfizer announced a $43 billion merger agreement with Seattle Genetics to bolster oncology offerings.