The company traces its roots back to 1828 when william S. Merrell opened the Western Market Drug Store at Sixth Street and Western Row (now Central Avenue) in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Merrell expanded into the wholesale drug Business. Following his death in 1880 his sons formed the william S. Merrell Chemical Company.
In the 1930s, it merged with a company started by Lunsford Richardson to become Richardson-Merrell. Richardson's most notable product was Vicks VapoRub (named in honor of his brother-in-law Dr. Joshua Vick, a Selma, North Carolina physician.
Ewing Kauffman, a former pharmaceutical salesman in Kansas City, Missouri started the company in 1950 in the basement of his Kansas City home by selling calcium supplements made from crushed oyster shells which he made in his home and starting with $5,000 in capital. Kauffman would say later he used his middle name for the company to avoid the impression that it was a one-person operation.
A team at william S. Merrell Chemical Company led by Frank Palopoli synthesized clomifene in 1956 (to stimulate ovulation); after its biological activity was confirmed a patent was filed and issued in November 1959. Scientists at Merrell had previously synthesized chlorotrianisene and ethamoxytriphetol.
In 1958, Richardson-Merrell acquired the English company Milton Antiseptic Ltd.
In 1964 it formally incorporated as Marion Laboratories, Inc.
In the 1980s it marketed Silvadene (a burn cream), Ditropan (treatment for bladder spasms), Nitro-Bid (chest pain treatment), ARD and Bac-T-Screen (helped identify bacteria), Culturette (used to identify Group A streptococci) and ToxiLab, a drug detection system used to detect drug abuse.
The former Richardson Merrell became Richardson Vicks. In 1985, Richardson Vicks was acquired by Procter & Gamble.
In 1989 Dow Chemical acquired 67 percent interest of Marion Laboratories, which was renamed Marion Merrell Dow. Among the products Merrell Dow brought that would be shortly marketed were Seldane, Lorelco, Nicorette and Cepacol. The merger was considered a good fit because of Marion Laboratories strong sales force and Merrell Dow's strong research and development capabilities.
At the time Marion Laboratories was outperforming all other drug company stocks by 2½ times. Marion had the highest sales and the highest profit per employee of any company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Dow's initial offer was $38 a share in cash, or $2.2 billion, for the 39 percent of Marion's 150 million shares with an option to raise the stake to 67 percent by 1992. The offer made 300 of Marion's employees millionaires. The deal created the fifth largest drug company in the United States in terms of sales.
In 1995 Hoechst AG of Germany announced plans to buy Dow's increased 71 percent share for $25.75 a share or $7.1 Billion. Hoechst also bought the other outstanding shares. The deal created the world's second largest drug manufacturer at the time (behind Glaxo Wellcome and ahead of Merck & Company).
Hoechst in turn later became part of the pharmaceutical and lab assay testing company Aventis in 1999, and subsequently a part of the multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi.