History of Bayer

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History of Bayer is a subarticle of the main SourceWatch article Bayer.

Overview & history

Bayer became a key player in the development, commercialization and sale of GMO (genetically modified organism) crops after acquiring Aventis' controversial agribusiness division in 2001. The company has a long history of controversy, including the manufacture and sale of controversial drugs (Heroin, Ciproxin and Baycol); the development of chemical warfare (Chlorine Gas, Zyklon B and VX); using forced labor during World War II; and numerous allegations of harmful drug side-effects and environmental pollution.[1] In December of 2001, Multinational Monitor rated Bayer AG as one of their Top Ten Worst Companies of the year, citing the company's attempt to overcharge the U.S. government for an anthrax antibiotic in the midst of increased anthrax bioterrorism, and their public relations efforts to stifle criticism of their drugs, evidenced by a lawsuit brought against Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, a German watchdog organization that had maintained BayerWatch.com.[2]

Bayer AG holds key positions in four markets: healthcare (pharmaceuticals), agriculture (seeds and agrochemicals), polymers (plastics, synthetic rubber, coatings) and chemicals (raw materials and specialized chemicals). Until the late 90's, competitors like Monsanto, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Aventis, DuPont, Dow and BASF, accumulated holdings in the same areas to exploit the "life-sciences" concept. The idea was that profitable synergies were possible between these different sectors through biotechnology. However, the "life sciences" bubble burst and major competitors have shed holdings in one or more of sectors to focus on more defined interests. In spite of these developments, Bayer maintains a quadrupedal structure, with all four divisions acting as independent corporate units owned by the Bayer AG holding company.[3]


The company's first incarnation came out of the European industries rush to develop and manufacture synthetic dyes in the second half of the 19th century. In 1863, Friedrich Bayer and Johann Friedrich Weskott opened a dye factory in Luppertal, Germany called Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedrich Bayer & Co. was launched in 1883. The company quickly diversified into other areas of chemical manufacturing, such as photography and pharmaceuticals, while Bayer established itself throughout Europe and the United States.[4]

Early discoveries, products & WWI

Early Bayer discoveries included Antinonin (synthetic pesticide, 1892), Aspirin (1897), Heroin (1898) and Buna (synthetic rubber 1915). During World War I, Bayer and other chemical manufacturers (both Allied and German), turned their attention to chemical weapons. [5] These weapons included chlorine gas, which had horrendous effects in trench warfare. During WWI, Bayer had a close association with other German chemical companies, including BASF and Hoechst (now Sanofi-Aventis). This relationship led to the 1925 with merger of these companies, as well as AGFA, and others, to form IG Farben Trust in 1925.[6]

WWII & IG Farben

It was in World War II Nazi Germany that IG Farben (Bayer) entered into its most sinister phase. As the leading chemical company in Nazi Germany, IG Farben took over chemical plants across occupied Europe. The company used slave labor in their their factories and even operated their own concentration camp. There, the company conducted medical experiments on inmates and manufactured poison gas used to kill thousands. At the end of the war, the 1945 Potsdam Agreement called for the dismantling of IG Farben into its constituent companies. Twelve IG Farben employees and directors were jailed for war crimes at the Nuremburg Trials.[7]

Bayer was re-established as Farbenfabriken Bayer AG in 1951. It changed its name to the current Bayer AG in 1972. Although the company is a different legal entity to IG Farben and its founding companies, a direct line of continuity can be traced to personnel, infrastructure and technology of the three incarnations.[8]

Bayer & Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the largest mass extermination factory in human history. However, few people are aware that Auschwitz was a 100% subsidiary of IG Farben. On April 14, 1941, in Ludwigshafen, Otto Armbrust, the IG Farben board member responsible for the Auschwitz project, stated to board colleagues:

"our new friendship with the SS is a blessing. We have determined all measures integrating the concentration camps to benefit our company."

Thousands of prisoners died during human experiments, drug and vaccine testing. Before longtime Bayer employee and SS Auschwitz doctor Helmut Vetter was executed for administering fatal infections, he wrote to his bosses at Bayer headquarters:

"I have thrown myself into my work wholeheartedly. Especially as I have the opportunity to test our new preparations. I feel like I am in paradise."

After WWII, IG Farben attempted to shake its abominable image through corporate restructuring and renaming. So great has been their success that the public has no idea that it many of the men responsible for such atrocities, were able to carry on their work even after the collapse of the Nazi regime. Such men were in control of the large chemical and pharmaceutical companies, both well before and after Hitler. The Nuremberg Tribunal convicted 24 IG Farben board members and executives on the basis of mass murder, slavery and other crimes. Incredibly, most of them had been released by 1951 and continued to consult with German corporations. The Nuremberg Tribunal dissolved IG Farben into Bayer, Hoechst and BASF, each company 20 times as large as IG Farben in 1944. For almost three decades after WWII, BASF, Bayer and Hoechst (Aventis) filled their highest position, chairman of the board, with former members of the Nazi regime. Bayer has been sued by survivors of medical experiments such as Eva Kor who, along with her sister, survived experiments at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele.[9] See also Pharmaceutical industry.


  1. Bayer AG: A Corporate Profile, Corporate Watch, accessed June 2011
  2. Russel Mokhiber, Robert Weissman Corporations Behaving Badly: The Ten Worst Corporations of 2001, pg. 18-19, Multinational Monitor, Volume 22, Number 12, December 2001
  3. L.F. Haber The Chemical Industry: 1900-1930 International Growth and Technological Change, pg 209, Oxford University Press, 1971
  4. L.F. Haber The Chemical Industry: 1900-1930 International Growth and Technological Change, pg 209, Oxford University Press, 1971
  5. L.F. Haber The Chemical Industry: 1900-1930 International Growth and Technological Change, pg. 209, Oxford University Press, 1971
  6. Hermann Levy Industrial Germany: A study of its Monopoly Organisations and their Control by the State, pg. 65-66, Routledge, November 4 1966, (first published, 1935), ISBN 978-0714613369
  7. Bayer AG: A Corporate Profile, Corporate Watch, March 2002
  8. Bayer AG: A Corporate Profile, Corporate Watch, March 2002
  9. Mark Sircus Pharmaceutical Terrorism: The Backbone of Modern Medicine, rawfoodinfo.com, accessed March 2010