Charles Pfizer

Pfizer logo





Country of origin: Germany

Year came to U.S.: 1848

Business: Pfizer, Inc. (1849)

Headquarters: New York, NY

2022 revenue: $100.3 billion

Worldwide employment: 83,000

Ranked 38 in the 2023 Fortune 500

  • Pfizer’s first product was an almond-toffee-flavored anti-parasitic.

  • The company’s early success relied heavily on Charles Pfizer’s ties to Europe and his ability to source ingredients overseas.

Just one year after arriving in the U.S. from Germany at the age of 23, Charles Pfizer formed the company now known as Pfizer Inc. with his cousin Charles Erhart. With a $2,500 loan from Pfizer’s father, they built the fledgling company using skills from their respective trades, Pfizer, a chemist, and Erhart, a confectioner. They established a base in Brooklyn, New York, and launched their first product, a good-tasting form of an anti-parasitic medicine called santonin. Intestinal worms were common in the 1800s, and santonin was an immediate success.

By 1860, the company was well established. It provided a number of important medications to the Union Army to fight pain and infection. Pfizer became known for its willingness to embrace the new technologies of the time. For example, it was one of the first companies in America to install telephones.

Their ties to Europe played a significant role in the company’s early growth as both Pfizer and Erhart traveled overseas to source ingredients. In the 1880s, the company grew with the newly developed soft-drink industry, emerging as the leading supplier of citric acid.

The company played a pivotal role in World War II when it became the first company to mass-produce penicillin and shared that knowledge with all major U.S. drug manufacturers. Widespread access to once-rare penicillin saved millions of lives during and after the war.

Starting in the 1950s, Pfizer moved from bulk chemical production to pharmaceutical discovery and development, inventing medicines such as Terramycin, the first purely-synthesized, broad-spectrum antibiotic. The company continued to focus on leading-edge biopharmaceuticals and, in the 1990s, introduced a new wave of high-value medicines to treat chronic diseases, including the cardiovascular therapy Lipitor.

Active in more than 125 nations and marketing more than 600 distinctive human health products, the company founded by Charles Pfizer is now the world’s largest research-based biopharmaceutical company and a pioneer in vaccines and precision medicine. It was among the first companies to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Discover other ways that immigrants have helped during the COVID-19 crisis with the blog post Three ways immigrants are fighting COVID-19.

Updated April 2024