Boehringer Ingelheim
15 November 2017
Jacqueline Berlin

Pioneer and visionary

The pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim was founded in 1885 by Albert Boehringer. It all began when a 24-year-old chemistry student, the son of the Mannheim chemicals manufacturer Christoph Heinrich Boehringer, purchased a small tartar factory in Nieder-Ingelheim with the help of his older brother Ernst. The factory began operations as “Albert Boehringer, Chemische Fabrik” on August 1, 1885, with a staff of 28. From then on, Albert Boehringer was known not only for his talent, perseverance and business acumen, also his appreciation of his employees earned him great respect as well. A guest feature by Dr Michael Siebler.

The young company founder could not have done it on his own. In fact, during those first years, he needed substantial financial support and organizational assistance from his mother Mathilde and Ernst, who managed their father’s company in Mannheim, C. F. Boehringer & Sons (today Roche Germany), together with his friend and brother-in-law, Friedrich Engelhorn. But Albert Boehringer developed skills and assertiveness, persistence and business acumen. These traits, combined with an unwavering belief in his success and confidence in seemingly hopeless situations, formed the basis for his life’s work: the development of C. H. Boehringer Sohn (CHBS) from a down-at-the-heels, struggling small enterprise to an economically successful chemical/pharmaceuticals company with an outstanding reputation.


It is often forgotten that what was then known as Pharmaceutical Specialties was not the core business of CHBS at the time. Not initially, at least. That took approximately thirty years, and the path was anything but straight. Initially, production centered on tartar and tartaric acid, particularly for the foodstuffs industry, but there was already a desire to manufacture the more lucrative citric acid. Albert Boehringer and his company faced a number of challenges: His brother Ernst died unexpectedly in Nieder-Ingelheim in September 1892, taking away forever Albert’s most important resource and adviser. This was soon followed by an attempt to produce citric acid in 1893, which failed so spectacularly that, instead of the intended product, an evil-smelling lactic acid floated in their wooden barrels. CHBS faced financial ruin.


This dire situation required a decision, and Albert Boehringer made it. Seemingly against all logic, he halted the experiments and instead began to devise a procedure for producing lactic acid in large quantities—a product that had no real market at the time. Ultimately, Albert Boehringer’s entrepreneurial genius was to find and essentially invent such a market after quality steadily improved from 1895 on. This pioneering feat in the application of biotechnological processes has also been acknowledged in the scientific literature.


The profits from lactic acid production allowed Albert Boehringer to finally consider producing alkaloids cost-effectively, since he could now create the infrastructure required for the product line that had been the Boehringer family’s hallmark since his grandfather Christian Friedrich’s time. By 1905 he was finally ready. CHBS launched alkaloid production in Nieder-Ingelheim. In addition to cocaine, morphine and codeine, other alkaloids were added to the company’s product range in subsequent years.


From there it was just a small step from alkaloid production to manufacturing pharmaceutical specialties and prescription medications, which today constitute Boehringer Ingelheim’s core business. Laudanon®, a pain medication compounded from six alkaloids of opium, was ready as early as 1912. Its market launch in 1915 ultimately failed, however, due to the war-related scarcity of resources and a competing product by Hoffmann La Roche, Switzerland. The first financial success with human pharmaceuticals came in 1921 with the introduction of Lobelin®, a classic emergency respiratory analeptic, and Sympatol®, a circulation medicine, nine years later. Sales of pharmaceutical specialties from Boehringer Ingelheim were still quite small compared to the company’s two pillars, acids and alkaloids, but by entering this promising market, Albert Boehringer had established the third pillar of his enterprise. It would develop into the main pillar of sales for Boehringer Ingelheim after the Second World War.


Boehringer Ingelheim has its founder to thank not only for establishing the company’s business lines that would become crucial for its growth and success, but also for laying the foundation of its culture and competitiveness in the market. Albert Boehringer, who was awarded the title of Councilor of Commerce in 1911 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Freiburg ten years later, never forgot to whom he ultimately owed his economic success. Nor that he had to ensure the survival and sustainability of his company, so it could remain wholly in the family’s ownership. Much of this is familiar and still holds true today.


Appreciation for his own employees was not just lip service for this strict yet fair company founder. His daily interactions and the benefits he gave employees were testaments to his respect. Numerous anecdotes show him to be a caring employer, as do his measures to benefit employees: establishing employee health insurance, paid vacation, a company pension, the daily employee meals, emergency support for employees in need and providing housing for blue- and white-collar employees.


When he established the Science department in 1917, Albert Boehringer provided a firm foundation for in-house research as well. The first director was the chemist Heinrich Wieland, the nephew of his wife Helene and later 1927 Nobel laureate. To ensure and strengthen innovation at CHBS, he naturally maintained close contact with scientists who had the necessary knowledge and ideas about the correct and timely utilization of new developments. He made certain to support the efforts and innovative spirit of excellent new employees and advisers whenever possible, and many returned his confidence with decades of loyal service. His advisers also came from within his extended family, such as Heinrich Wieland and his nephew Robert Boehringer, who eventually gave the company and three generations of family owners advice and support.


Albert Boehringer highly valued maintaining his company’s independence and keeping it in family hands. The loss of his father’s company in 1892, following his brother Ernst’s untimely death, remained a constant warning to him to take precautions to keep his company in the family. But he had to struggle to achieve those goals and ensure CHBS’ future, which looked very uncertain on more than one occasion: the looming disaster after his brother’s death in 1892; economic scarcity during the First World War; the French occupation of the Rhine in 1918; reparation payments dictated by the Treaty of Versailles; hyperinflation in 1923; his removal from Nieder-Ingelheim by the French occupation authorities that same year; the world economic crisis in the wake of the 1928 New York stock market crash; bank failures in 1931 and subsequent mass unemployment. Each of these events left deep marks on CHBS.


His acute sense of family was reflected most clearly in the relatively early transfer of responsibility to both of his sons, Albert (1919; Alkaloids) and Ernst (1927; Pharmaceutical Specialties), and his son-in-law Julius Liebrecht (1920; Acids). This provided “management,” as Albert Boehringer was often referred to, support in daily operations and assurance that succession would remain within the family. By the early 1930s, responsibility for the fate of CHBS had already been placed in the hands of the second generation. Albert, Ernst and their brother-in-law Julius continued to lead the company in the spirit of its founder. One could perhaps define the guiding theme of their work with these words: Preserving tradition and values while remaining open to progress and innovation—a guide for conscientious business management that has shaped the family’s leadership across generations.


As Albert Boehringer died on March 11, 1939, there was not a one who did not mourn. But this was true not only at the factory. All of Ingelheim and the surrounding area were deeply touched by the man who was born in Swabia. He had, after many years in Ingelheim, become ‘one of our own,’ his name and reputation so closely intertwined with that of the small city. The burial came with a huge outpouring of solidarity with the deceased and his family, as employees, retirees, friends, business partners, and residents of Nieder-Ingelheim and the surrounding towns lined the roads to show their gratitude and pay their final respects to Albert Boehringer. A four-in-hand hearse carried his coffin throughout the plant to its final resting place in the cemetery.

"Albert Boehringer was not a prodigy – but he believed in innovation. "
Jacqueline Berlin

2 Kommentar(e) für 'Pioneer and visionary'


Remarkable life of Mr. Albert Boehringer. Yearning to be part of his business empire. Would love to work and be of service in Boehriger Ingelheim. Thank you for sharing. +91 9833023896

Dear Firoz, you find all of our vacancies on our Global Job Portal: We are looking for your application! All the best, Jacqueline

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