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WELLCOME HISTORY

Silas Burroughs & Henry Wellcome
Silas Mainville Burroughs was born on 24th December 1846 in Medina, New York. He was the son of a lawyer and when orphaned at the age of 13 lived with his aunt. He studied in Philadelphia where he graduated from the college of pharmacy in 1877.

In 1878 he travelled to London as a representative of John Wyeth & Co. soon branching out on his own and forming Burroughs & Co. to import drugs into the UK.

On Monday 27th September 1880 with a deed of partnership Silas Burroughs formed Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. with his American friend and fellow pharmacist from Philadelphia, Henry Solomon Wellcome.

Henry was born on 21st August 1853 in Almond, Wisconsin. He was the son of a farmer/preacher and was educated in a traditional log cabin frontier school.

After forming the new company Burroughs, almost immediately, set off on a four year promotional world tour in order to expand the business. As a result of his work the first branch of the company was established in Melbourne Australia.

Following the success of the tour they decided that owing to the high cost of importing drugs from America they would manufacture them in the UK. Their first factory was next to the Thames at Bell Lane Wharf, Wandsworth and in 1889 a much larger site was found in Dartford. The former Pheonix Paper Mill was named the Wellcome Chemical Works and became the main manufacturing centre for the company.

The company headquarters, which was soon being extended, was based in Snow Hill, Holborn, London but Burroughs and Wellcome were two very contrasting characters, differing in both personality and politics.

By the early 1890s the two men were no longer on speaking terms. Wellcome was increasingly taking over the business so much so that the Burroughs name did not appear in the title of the Wellcome Chemical Works, in Dartford or in the Wellcome Physiological Research Laboratories which were opened in 1894 and the planned Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories which opened in 1896. The comma had also been removed from the company name to make it a more one man business !

Wellcome was raising money to buy out his partner when Silas Burroughs unexpectedly died of pneumonia on 6th February 1895 while recovering from another illness in Monte Carlo.

After securing full control of the company in 1898, Wellcome began not only to shape Burroughs Wellcome & Co in his own image, but also began to spend more and more time on his own interests. That the wealth of his company allowed him to do so, however, owed in no small part to Silas Burroughs.

The company thrived and Wellcome set up a number of overseas ‘associated houses’, including those in South Africa, Italy, Canada, USA, China, Argentina and India. In 1924 he bought all the nine Burroughs Wellcome companies, his research and scientific interests and his museums all under one umbrella company – The Wellcome Foundation.

At this point Wellcome lost his drive and between the wars the company seemed to slow or to some stop. No new companies were opened between 1912 and 1954. Henry spent his time building his historical medical collection.

In 1930 he bought a piece of land on Euston Road, London. The foundation stone was laid in 1931 and in 1932 The Wellcome Research Institution (later named The Wellcome Building in 1955) was opened. The building became home to his museum and the Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories. The Snow Hill headquarters were destroyed in the blitz of 1941 and so the company then moved its headquarters to that building.

The building was the closest that Henry Wellcome came to fulfilling his real dream. He had planned for the creation of a site, probably in Dartford, where his research laboratories and manufacturing works would be side by side along with accommodation for his staff. It was known as 'Wellcomeville' - but it never came to be.

Wellcome had a passion for collecting medically related artefacts, aiming to create a Museum of Man. He bought very widely anything related to medicine, including Napoleon's toothbrush, currently on display at the Wellcome Collection. By his death there were 125,000 medical objects in the collection, of over one million total. Most of the non-medical objects were dispersed after his death. He was also a keen archaeologist, in particular digging for many years at Jebel Moya in Sudan, hiring 4000 people to excavate.

Parts of his collection have been exhibited in the Science Museum (London) since 1976, and in the Wellcome Collection as the exhibit "Medicine Man" since 2007. His collection of books, paintings, drawings, photographs and other media are available to view in the Wellcome Library.

Wellcome died of pneumonia in The London Clinic on 25th July 1936 after an operation, and on his death the Wellcome Trust was established. In his will, Henry Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual Trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health.

The Wellcome Trust managed a very successful pharmaceutical business over the following decades which included the acquisitions of the veterinary medical company, Cooper McDougall & Robertson, in 1959 and the hygiene company, Calmic Ltd. in 1967.

A merger with Glaxo, to become GlaxoWellcome, in 1995 was followed by the merger with SmithKline Beecham, in 2000, to form GlaxoSmithKline or GSK.

This resulted in the loss of two great names from the British pharmaceutical industry – Wellcome & Beecham - but none greater than Wellcome.