WWII-Themed Exhibit Highlights Company’s Revolutionary Advances in Penicillin Production
Reprint from Pfizer World November 19, 2012
Pfizer’s role as a pioneer in the mass production of the lifesaving antibiotic penicillin is being highlighted as part of “WWII & NYC,” a new exhibition launched by the New-York Historical Society that explores the impact of World War II on New York City.
The 3,000-square-foot exhibition, which runs through May 2013, combines an extensive array of photographs, artifacts, advertisements, paintings, maps and models in showcasing how New York residents confronted the challenges of war mobilization and contributed to the war effort.
The exhibition is on display at the museum and library of the New-York Historical Society, a cultural institution founded in 1804 that focuses on the history of New York City, New York State and the broader U.S.
For the exhibit, Pfizer loaned the society two original penicillin vials from the era. Also included in the exhibit is a 1940s Pfizer advertisement depicting military men and women at the center of a line of civilians with a caption beneath that reads, “These are alive today … because of Penicillin.”
Already recognized as a pioneer in fermentation technology used to produce citric acid products in the 1930s, Pfizer was well-positioned to successfully lead other companies in responding to an appeal from the U.S. government to expedite the production of penicillin to treat Allied soldiers serving in the war. In a move considered risky at the time, company leaders invested millions in the purchase of a Brooklyn ice plant and fermentation equipment in September of 1943. Pfizer colleagues, working around the clock, quickly converted it into the world’s first penicillin factory.
Within three months of the plant’s opening on Mar. 1, 1944, Pfizer produced most of the penicillin that went ashore with American troops on June 6, 1944 — known as D-Day — when Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy, France, in an effort to defeat Nazi forces that had occupied the country. By that date, American penicillin production was 100 billion units per month, and Pfizer was making more than 50 percent of it.
“If the American men and women who fought and won World War II can be described as the Greatest Generation, then New York’s unsurpassed contributions to the war effort can be said to have earned it the title ‘Greatest City,’” said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society. “What award-winning 'WWII & NYC' curator Marci Reaven shows in this fascinating, and often astonishing exhibition, is how central the city was to a war whose battles were fought thousands of miles away — a story little known by most people today.”