Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monsanto Chemical Company - History

Who and what is the Monsanto Corporation? The Monsanto Chemical Company has a diverse and interesting history. Monsanto is the leading chemical producer for agricultural products. They manufacture the best-selling herbicide RoundUp (as well as other herbicides). They are also the producer of leading seed brands such as DEKALB and Asgrow and they are heavily involved in providing farmers and seed companies with the necessary biotechnology for insect protection and herbicide tolerance.

Monsanto is the creator and distributor of Bovine Growth Hormone (BST). They also have a long history with the soft drink industry in the manufacturing of both saccharin and aspartame (NutraSweet).

Monsanto was established in 1901 in St. Louis, MO. How exactly has Monsanto spent its 100+ years in business and what are some of the more notable facets of its world influence? Let's find out.

Founder John Francis Queeny spent 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry before the inception of Monsanto. While still an employee of Meyer Brothers Drug Company, he depleted his entire savings and borrowed from a Chicago soft drink supplier to form a new company to produce products for the food and pharmaceutical industry. The new company was named for his wife, whose maiden name was Olga Monsanto. Monsanto was born on November 29, 1901.

In 1902, Monsanto's first product was none other than saccharin. Between the years of 1903 and 1905 their entire saccharin production was shipped to a growing soft drink company based in Georgia called Coca-Cola. In 1904 Monsanto introduced caffeine and vanillin to the growing soft drink industry.

By 1915, Monsanto sales hit the one million mark. Approximately two years later Monsanto began producing aspirin. Monsanto was the top aspirin producer in the U.S. until the 1980s.

In 1917, the first suit over the safety of saccharin was filed by the U.S. Government. This case was filed at Monsanto's request as a test case and was dismissed in 1925. In 1981, the safety of saccharin was again challenged. No conclusive scientific evidence was ever presented, however, so in 2001 the warning label was removed from products.

In 1985, G.D. Searle & Company bought Monsanto. At this point Monsanto became even more involved in pharmaceuticals and the sweetener industry. In addition, NutraSweet was acquired by Monsanto.

World War II was the catalyst to a new partnership between Monsanto and the U.S. Government. Monsanto became involved in research for the Manhattan Project which led to the world's first nuclear bombs. Until the late 1980s, Monsanto also operated the Mound Laboratory (a nuclear facility) on behalf of the Federal Government.

By 1955, Monsanto had branched out in the petroleum business. They acquired Lion Oil essentially to provide themselves with petrochemical materials. With the acquisition of Lion Oil, Monsanto was also introduced into the fertilizer business. This brought them the industries of hydrocarbon technology, oil and gas reserves, as well as retail gasoline businesses. They sold their service stations and refineries in 1972.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Monsanto was the leading producer of Agent Orange (containing the chemical dioxin) for the U.S. Military in Vietnam. Between the years of 1962 and 1970, the U.S. military sprayed 72 million liters of Agent Orange on over one million Vietnam civilians and over 100,000 U.S. troops. Within ten years of the end of the war, 9,170 veterans had filed claims for disabilities believed to be caused by Agent Orange.

In 1977, Monsanto entered a joint petrochemical venture with Conoco Oil Company. They were bought out at a later time and they utilized the profit to acquire a pharmaceutical company. By this time, G.D. Searle & Co was successful in getting the U.S. FDA to approve aspartame (NutraSweet) for a second time. In 2000, Monsanto sold its sweetener business (including NutraSweet) for a tidy sum of $440 million.

By the late 1990s, Monsanto turned its focus to agriculture and started buying seed companies and genetic laboratories. In December 1999, Monsanto and Pharmicia & UpJohn announced an impending merger. Upon the completed merger in March 2000, the new company Pharmicia Corporation was created. The agricultural portion of the corporation has retained the Monsanto name.

What does the future hold for Monsanto? They have formed a wheat industry advisory committee to provide advice and support for the best way to incorporate biotechnology into the wheat industry. They are also marketing the drug L-DOPA (used to treat Parkinson's). They have also placed the first U.S. corporate order to GM for pickup trucks that use ethanol-based E85 fuel. This is part of a larger move on their part to focus new research toward the use of bioenergy resources. They are also currently involved in the current controversy involving recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and the labeling of U.S. milk.

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