Sigma History

A Global Giant is Born

While the Great Depression saw many famous businesses ending, it was also a time when a few companies, destined to be great, began. One such enterprise was a precursor of what would eventually become Sigma-Aldrich.

As the depressed American economy began to slowly improve, a few eager individuals were ready to take a chance with new enterprises. In St. Louis, Missouri, Aaron Fisher and his brother Bernard were driven by the belief that they could sell almost any product if its quality was high and if it was supported by exceptional service.

Backed by these guiding principles, the two brothers created Midwest Consultants, helping local companies produce such products such as cosmetics, shoe polishes, adhesives and even inks.

Business was surprisingly good. Within a year, the company was able to hire a young chemical engineer, Dan Broida, to manage certain aspects of their many new activities. Broida's approach to business was simple: face matters head-on and "do whatever it takes to get the job done." This forthright attitude had a way of attracting new customers and soon made it possible to expand the production capabilities of Midwest Consultants even more. The birth of Sigma Chemical was right around the corner.

Sigma Chemical Company

Sigma Chemical Company became an offspring of a "sweet" opportunity. During World War II, saccharin became a much sought after sweetening agent. To Dan Broida, this sounded like a unique product opportunity. He soon made up his mind to become a major player in the manufacture and sale of this artificial sweetener. In 1946, he hired a pair of chemical engineers, Leo Bressler and Walter Stern, to tackle the sweetener challenge.

Together, this team worked out a saccharin production process, installed the necessary equipment and launched Sigma Chemical Company, the first offspring of Midwest Consultants. During the first year, business couldn't have been better. All the major distributing companies bought saccharin as fast as Sigma could produce it. The business was sweet, but all too short. Monsanto, a competing company also headquartered in St. Louis, began to focus its attention on saccharin production and soon pushed tiny Sigma Chemical Company right out of the market.

The adversity might have defeated many, but Dan Broida was undaunted. He saw the setback as an opportunity. With a fully equipped laboratory and a team of chemical engineers, Broida started searching for another product winner.

Sigma Chemical Company began to experiment with other product possibilities, including gold plating, embedding objects in plastic, a line of cosmetics, aluminum anodizing, synthesizing agricultural chemicals and manufacturing miniatures of popular consumer products. Sigma Chemical Company even became seriously involved in the custom manufacture of inks for Universal Match Corporation and a line of corrosion-resistant pants for the Carboline Company. The flexibility behind all of these product ventures helped Sigma Chemical Company sustain a pattern of continual growth.

The Turning Point

ATP (adenosine-τ-triphosphate) proved to be the turning point in the company's evolution. Between projects, Dan Broida allowed a friend, Lou Berger, to occupy some of his laboratory space. Berger was completing his Master's Degree in Biochemistry, isolating and purifying ATP in the laboratory of the famous Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Carl and Dr. Gerty Cori. Based on the Cori findings, he was convinced that ATP would soon become a very important product in the biochemical research scene.

Berger was absolutely right, as ATP proved to have enormous market value. He began to teach the production chemists at Sigma Chemical Company how to isolate and purify ATP. As soon as its availability was known, research groups the world over wanted to purchase 'research quality' ATP for their own studies. And they did. Before long, the research community came to respect Sigma and turn to it for research chemical needs.

Realizing the potential of research products, Broida claimed, "Come hell or high water, we are going to make a success of Sigma." He immediately focused all his efforts toward biochemical production. This was a bold step, as other product lines had to be consolidated or dropped all together.

But Broida was used to taking bold steps. For example, he won the attention of the scientific community by publishing his home telephone number on the cover of the Sigma catalogs and other publications. Broida encouraged people to call him collect from anywhere in the world to discuss their research needs, any time of the day or night. Sigma became famous for this unprecedented level of customer service.

With Broida's leadership, the research product business flourished. Echoing this success in the market, 1964 saw Sigma London formed to strengthen efforts in the United Kingdom. Just two years later, as sales increased throughout Europe, the German chemical giant, Boehringer Mannheim, decided to terminate its supplier relationship with Sigma. With this valuable supply line cut, Sigma was quickly forced to produce many of its starting materials, which it did with astounding aplomb and success.

New production groups were organized under Ted Gimenez, with each group operating as an individual supplier, managing its own development and analysis, and delivering the finished products to a central control assay laboratory. It was here that products were analyzed, packaged and labeled for shipment. This new style of self-sufficient operation proved to be a huge success.

With the 1970s came new plans for rapid expansion. Sigma Israel was established and just one year later, Sigma Chemical Company made its first acquisition, B-Line Systems Incorporated, which manufactured steel struts and support systems for cables and piping. Although not connected to the burgeoning research chemical business, this company looked very promising to a few Sigma visionaries. Located near Sigma headquarters in Highland, Illinois, this small metal manufacturing company seemed to be in a market filled with high expectations. And this proved to be a very wise investment.

Just one year later, in 1972, Sigma Chemical Company went public. The stock offering was well received and growth continued at a record pace. In a few months, another subsidiary - Sigma Munich - was opened. In another part of the world, Sigma Israel - the Middle East arm of the company - acquired Makor, a specialty chemical manufacturer.

In 1975, a new partnership with a promising future was quietly forged between Sigma Chemical Company and Aldrich Chemical Company. The combination, Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, instantly achieved synergistic penetration of world chemical markets. Sigma had an established reputation for its research biochemicals, while Aldrich was a recognized leader in research organic compounds. It proved to be an exceptionally good union.