Jeremy's Corner Page 3  

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These nuggets of Upjohn history were distributed via Larry Reeves to everyone on the Pfizer Kalamazoo manufacturing site QTS broadcast emails as "Jeremy's Corner" starting in 2019. Thank you, Larry!

Corner #30 - One of the better known Upjohn products was Kaopectate, which was used to stop diarrhoea. It was first introduced in 1936 and made in Downtown Kalamazoo. After 1950, large quantities of it were formulated and bottled in Building 41. The vanilla used in Kaopectate could constantly be smelled inside the building. Until the late 1980s the active ingredients were kaolinite (an absorbant clay) and pectin (an emollient). However, Upjohn could not prove the effectiveness of this combination to the FDA so the active ingredient had to be changed to attapulgite (another type of absorbent clay). This is the "Advanced formula" stated on the label below. Kaopectate was made in Building 41 until the late 1990s, when most Upjohn consumer brands were sold off.  Curiously, the active ingredient attapulgite was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003. As a consequence, bismuth subsalicylate is now used as the active ingredient in U.S. marketed product. Kaopectate is currently sold by Arcadia Consumer Healthcare but it is no longer the market leader it was in Upjohn days.

Corner #29 - There was a time when every employee's car was required to have a parking sticker on the windshield so when it was on company property the owner could quickly be identified. Stickers were obtained from the Security Office. The top parking sticker below was the first design ever used by Upjohn. It shows the manufacturing tower and headquarters building in Downtown Kalamazoo so I'm guessing it dates back to the 1940s or 50s. The lower sticker is of 1990s vintage when Upjohn used the stylized circle of U's as a logo. The number beneath the U's identified the specific vehicle and owner. The use of parking stickers on automobiles lasted into the Pharmacia era. By the time Pfizer bought the site, parking stickers were no longer needed as it was much easier for security to query the State of Michigan title and registration database. A license plate could then be immediately linked to the owner of the vehicle.


Corner #28 - In the 1980s I can remember going to the Upjohn Building 41 cafeteria and using one of these vitamin tablet dispensers to get a free daily Unicap M tablet. The M indicated a multi-vitamin also containing minerals. Every cafeteria and snack bar on the Portage site had at least one of these dispensers. Starting in the 1950s and lasting until the mid-1990s, the Upjohn vitamin business was very robust, Unicap being a well-known brand across the US and many other countries. There were other Upjohn multi-vitamin formulations such as Unicap Senior, Unicap Therapeutic and Unicap Chewable. All Unicaps were made in Building 41. Upjohn actually designed and patented this vitamin dispenser and I'm guessing that institutions such as schools and colleges could purchase them. Here's a 1974 TV commercial for Unicaps

Corner #27 - Having trouble getting to sleep? The Upjohn product below would solve that problem. Sedative Modified was sold by Upjohn from 1904 to 1937. During that time period it would have been manufactured in Downtown Kalamazoo.The  7 and 1/2 grains of cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana) in each tablet translates to 500mg, which I'm told is a lot, likely more than enough to put you to sleep. In the early days of The Upjohn Company they sold a lot of medications containing cannabis, cocaine, opium, heroin and morphine, which unfortunately led to a lot of addictions. Thank goodness we have safer alteratives for pain management and other medical problems today.


Corner #27 - As you drive West on Romence Road you've probably noticed office buildings on the right side that are currently used by Stryker. There are actually four buildings and each one has two levels. These were once a vital part of The Upjohn Company. They were numbered 203, 227, 242 and 243, being built between 1973 and 1980, and known as the "Quad Buildings". They totalled 400,000 square feet of office space. They were cheaply constructed with a design lifetime of only 15 years. When walking on the upper level I could feel the floors vibrating and flexing under me. Groups in the building were the corporate computer operation,  Information Technology, Finance, International, Medical Affairs, Payroll and Taxes. All those corporate groups were no longer needed in Kalamazoo after the merger with Pharmacia and purchase of Pharmacia by Pfizer. The buildings were then sold. In spite of that short design lifetime, they are still in use 48 years later. A major refurbishment, including structural improvements, was made to them by Stryker five or so years ago.

Corner #26 - This unusual Upjohn product showed up on eBay recently. The Gelfoam Tumor Diagnostic Kit was manufactured from 1948 through the mid-1950s (it was in the 1954 product catalog but not in a 1959 catalog). The Gladstone Technique mentioned on the box was said to be particularly useful for cervical and bronchial tumors. A gelfoam swab was  briskly rubbed on the area of the suspected tumor  and if there were cancer cells present they would be held tenaciously by the gelfoam. Once on the gelfoam, the suspected cancer cells would be fixed and mailed to a lab in the envelope provided. There the cells would be viewed under a microscope. We can only speculate that after 6-10 years of sales, a better test came along and this Upjohn product was discontinued.

Corner #25 - Upjohn sold Cactus Compound pills from 1929 to 1931. The 3-year product lifetime means it was not a good seller. It was (and still is) claimed that taking cactus extracts can reduce body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels but there were no clinical studies conducted. And who knows what other substances in cactus might give unpleasant side effects. I'm currently on a blood pressure medication and thankfully it is pure and proven to work. There's something to be said for living in 2021 instead of ninety years ago!

Corner #24 - When I drive by the new Stryker headquarters building on Portage Road north of Pfizer I'm reminded there once was an Upjohn  headquarters building on Portage Road. It was right at the corner of Portage Road and Romance Rd. Construction began in 1959 and was completed by 1961. Many photos of the construction process were taken and can be seen at this link. As a corporate headquarters of a thriving pharmaceutical company it was appropriately luxurious. Here are some photos of how it looked when complete. As well as water pools within the building (photo below) there were two large ponds to the south of it. There was much use of marble from Arkansas - the executive bathrooms were completely trimmed in marble. The building included the corporate boadroom (photo below). It was numbered Building 88 and employees called it the Taj Mahal.  Here are some Kalamazoo Gazette clippings from 1961. When the building was not longer needed by Pfizer, it was hoped to sell it but nobody wanted it. It had to be demolished in 2007. Over 90% of the demolition materials were recycled.


Corner #24 - Here are some interesting facts from the earliest years of the Upjohn Portage Plant:

  • During August 1945 a site on Kilgore Road ws selected for a new plant and options on 300 acres of land were purchased (Kilgore Road was in the country at that time). However, it was decided that the terrain at that site was too rough and it was abandoned.

  • In 1946 The Austin Company produced a formal and detailed report contrasting the benefits of expanding existing Upjohn production facilities in Downtown Kalamazoo versus building in Portage. It's at this link.

  • The older Upjohn family members on the board did not want to build a new plant in the country, calling it "Donald's folly" (Donald Gilmore was CEO at the time and the person who pushed the project through).

  • In the first conceptual drawing of the Portage Road plant, the cafeteria was a separate building in front of the power house.

  • Dynamite was used to blow up the trees and old building foundations that needed to be removed. You can see the explosions at this link.

  • The first power house boilers used at the site were from decommissioned World War II navy ships.

  • Building 38 started fermentation production in 1948. For the workers in this building, an old farmhouse on the west side of Portage Road was used as a cafeteria.

  •  In September 1949 a bus service from Kalamazoo started, using company-owned buses and driven by regular company employees. There's a page on the buses at this link.

  • The $31M cost of the new Portage Plant was entirely covered by company earnings. No loans were needed.


Corner #23 - The ingredients list of this Wild Cherry and Ammonium Compound No. 2 Upjohn product is instructive. It contains chloroform, white pine bark, wild cherry bark and ammonium chloride.  It was made from 1920 to 1936. Back then there were very few chemical or biological syntheses of active ingredients so extraction from natural sources such as bark was the industry standard. Railroad box cars full of bark arrived for Upjohn in Downtown Kalamazoo until 1950 and then Building 41 after that. A 1936 reference list of Upjohn products states about this product:  "The white pine and wild cherry bark vehicle in combination with a small amount of chloroform has a characteristic soothing and cooling effect on the throat." Wild cherry bark also has sedative properties. It was given to adults, children and infants. The product name eventually became Cheracol, and Upjohn made it in Building 41 until the end of the 1980's. This particular 1-gallon bottle was made for pharmacists and physicians, who would have dispensed a smaller amount to patients.




Corner #22 - Never were vaccines so important than in 2021. Upjohn manufactured vaccines as early as 1921, the selection including influenza, pertussis, typhoid, gonococcus, staphylococcus and bacteriophage coci. Here's a photo of a surviving Upjohn Influenza vaccine product from 1916. It would have been manufactured in the Downtown Kalamazoo complex and conditions for making sterile products were primitive at that time. Upjohn sold this particular vaccine from 1921 to 1942. By the end of the 1940s the company had exited the vaccine business, preferring to focus on steroids and antibiotics synthesized in the new Portage Plant.



Corner #21 - It was a very proud and historic moment on the morning of December 13th when three large semi's left the Building 41 warehouse with the first shipments of Covid-19 vaccine. Huge congrats to all of you. Those gleaming, temperature-controlled trucks are state-of-the-art pharmaceutical transportation. It wasn't always that impressive. When The Upjohn Company was founded in 1886, product was only sold locally and delivered by horse and cart. Fairly soon, an office in New York City was opened and Upjohn product traveled by train to NYC. When the internal combustion engine was strong enough to power trucks, Upjohn could make easier local deliveries by road but deliveries to cities outside of West Michigan still went by rail. In fact, when Building 41 fully opened in 1951, over 90% of incoming materials and outgoing products still arrived and left by rail. I've pulled 3 photos of old Upjohn trucks out of the archives for you to see how it used to be done. The wooden crates containing Upjohn product seen in the first photo were destined to be loaded into railroad box cars in Downtown Kalamazoo.





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