A history of… Boehringer Ingelheim

Hannah Blake


This month we look into the history of German pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, which has been around for over 125 years and still remains a family-owned company. How much has changed? Have a read and see…

Today, the Boehringer Ingelheim group is considered as one of the world’s leading 20 pharmaceutical companies. Since its humble beginnings in the village of Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany, the company has grown considerably, but the headquarters are still situated in the same place. However, it now operates globally with 145 affiliates and over 42,000 employees.

How was this corporation started?

In 1885, a man named Albert Boehringer purchased a small factory in the Rhine-Hessian village of Nieder-Ingelheim in Germany. Work began on August 1st and initially, 28 people were employed to manufacture tartaric acid salts, which were used by pharmacies and dyeing works. The salts made products such as lemonade and baking powder, which were both in high demand at the time.

It was Albert himself who made the ground-breaking discovery in 1893 that lactic acid could be produced in mass quantities, by means of bacteria. It was also this year that Albert renamed the company C. H. Boehringer Sohn, in honour of his father, Christoph Heinrich Boehringer. Two years later, the company had begun producing lactic acid on an industrial scale, which was a commercial success.


“The first drug was launched in 1912 and was an analgesic based on six opium alkaloids…”


But Albert was always on the search for new paths in chemistry. In 1905, the company developed an economical process for extracting alkaloids, such as morphine, cocaine and codeine, and then sold the substances to the emerging pharma industry or exported them abroad.

The first drug was launched in 1912 and was an analgesic based on six opium alkaloids called Laudanon. Its widespread market launch was not until 1915, however. The next products to be launched included cardiovascular drug, Cadechol, and bile product, Bilaval.

The research department of Boehringer Ingelheim was founded in 1917, by Albert’s chemist cousin, Heinrich Wieland. Shortly after the company’s 50th anniversary, founder Albert Boehringer died aged 78. The company was taken over by his sons, Albert and Ernst, and his son-in-law, Julius Liebrecht.

Another ground-breaking moment happened in 1941, when the company launched its respiratory drug, Aludrin. This respiratory agent paved the way for new treatments of asthma, including betablockers, many years later. Between the 50s and 80s, a number of important and innovative products were released to market, including further respiratory agents Alupent, Berotec and Berodual. The next milestone for the company was its launch of Actilyse in 1987, as this was the first thrombolytic treatment for acute heart attacks.

Dr Ernst Boehringer, Albert’s second son, recognised the importance of foreign markets and it was from his ideas that the first foreign subsidiary of Boehringer Ingelheim was established in Vienna (1948), followed by the founding of Boehringer Ingelheim Espana S. A. in Barcelona, Spain (1953) and the establishment of business operations in Japan (1961).

It wasn’t long until Boehringer Ingelheim reached the USA. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. was founded in Connecticut, USA, in 1971 and expanded to become the company’s North American research centre. This was followed by centres in both Venezuela and Canada.

The change of healthcare in the 80s

Changing global healthcare standards and the increasing cost of healthcare in the 1980s meant that the Boehringer family needed to make some fundamental decisions regarding the future. A decision was made to maintain the company’s leading position as a research-based pharma company and R&amp,D activities were restructured to allow better access to resources and faster launches of innovative products. It was during this period of change that the corporate vision, “Value through Innovation” was born, which defined the targets and framework for the company’s future (and are still used today).


“… between 2001 and 2010, over 1,300 clinical studies were conducted or sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim…”


In 1995, Boehringer Ingelheim’s global R&amp,D expenditure exceeded 1 billion Deustche Mark (the German currency before the Euro) and a total of 23,277 people were employed. The 90s also attributed Combivent, for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alna / Flomax for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and the Parkinson’s disease treatment, Sifrol (which was later made available for restless leg syndrome, too).

Continuing its R&amp,D vision, between 2001 and 2010, over 1,300 clinical studies were conducted or sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim, with 106 substances in 87 countries, from all regions of the world.

From 1992 until the end of 2000, the Chairman of the Shareholders’ Committee was run by Erich von Baumbach, son-in-law of Albert. A year later, another direct descendant of the founder of Boehringer Ingelheim joined the committee, but it was until January 2007 that Christian Boehringer became Chairman.

In 2010, Boehringer Ingelheim had sales worldwide of EU €12.6 billion – the total sales in the UK was £397.5 million. Approximately 24% of net sales were spent in their largest business segment, prescription medicines, on research and development.

Keep ‘em keen…

In 2010, Boehringer Ingelheim reached its 125th anniversary. For 125 years, the company has maintained its corporate responsibility, as well as its social responsibility.

From the beginning, Albert was kind to his employees – Boehringer’s history states that in 1905, a benefit fund was set up for retired employees, by 1907 construction had begun on the first employee homes and in 1909, the “Christoph-und-Mathilde-Boehinger-Stiftung” benefit fund was founded for disabled employees. In 1917, the company began issuing employee lunches for the first time.


“…it was mandatory for each employee to go on holiday and send a postcard back!”


In the year of C. H. Boehringer Sohn’s 25th anniversary, all employees benefited from a new paid annual holiday entitlement – from then on they’d have 14 days, as well as an allowance for travel expenses. Plus, it was mandatory for each employee to go on holiday and send a postcard back!

It was Albert’s son Ernst who not only recognised how important it was for the pharma industry to have connections overseas, but also the importance of cultural learning internally. In 1959, he launched “International Days” to promote the appreciation and understanding of different cultures. This event celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 and is still a big highlight of Ingelheim’s calendar today.

It’s not just in the name…

While other pharmaceutical companies went through many different name changes since launch, such as GSK, Boehringer Ingelheim’s name only went through minor alterations, as the company changed hands between family members, and it was the logo that went through change. The first protected Boehringer logo was registered in 1893 and was the letters CHBS intertwined in an oval with the circumscription, “C. H. Boehrigner Sohn”.

Twelve years later, the company logo was changed to display a stylised motif of the imperial place of Ingelheim. The logo we know today was launched worldwide in 1997, and is a modernised version of the same Ingelheim imperial palace from before.

Boehringer Ingelheim: 2012

The company today has a reputation for providing effective products for the treatment of a number of diseases, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, HIV / AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and pain relief in cancer.

At the last (known) count, the Boehringer Ingelheim group had 42,224 employees worldwide. Of these employees, 12,647 worked in production, 16,543 in sales &amp, marketing and 7,093 in R&amp,D. It’s received recognition on numerous occasions for being a good employer. In the first half of the current financial year, Boehringer Ingelheim achieved a 6.8% increase in sales, which was mainly driven by double-digit growth of the established respiratory tract medication, Spiriva (Tiotropium Bromide Inhalation Powder), as well as the newly introduced diabetes medication, Trajenta (linagliptin).


“…has a reputation for providing effective products for the treatment of a number of diseases…”


Boehringer Ingelheim also has a commitment to embracing economic and social well-being in all the countries it operates in. In the UK, the company recycles nearly 1000 tons of material – at the last count, its recycling rate for 2010 was 29%. The company also donated in excess of £28,000 to external charities, through its Community Spirit programme.

This year has seen Boehringer Ingelheim fully embrace the digital world, with a presence on a number of social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Just this month, it has also entered the entertainment industry, with the beta launch of its healthcare game, Syrum. Before its launch in September 2012, Google had over 50,000 searches for Syrum – showing just how popular Boehringer’s innovative move towards gamification really was. But the debate is still out about what Boehringer Ingelheim will achieve from Syrum – will it save pharma? We’ll have to wait and see…





Previous ‘A history of…’ articles:

A history of the pharmaceutical industry

A history of Amgen

A history of GSK

A history of Pfizer

The next ‘A history of…’ article will be published on the 29th October.




About the author:

Hannah joined pharmaphorum in early 2012, after graduating with a degree in Magazine Journalism &amp, Feature Writing in 2011, and leads our news coverage, in addition to liaising with new and existing feature authors. With over three years’ experience working within the journalism industry alongside university, Hannah has written for a number of different print and online publications, within the women’s lifestyle, travel and celebrity sectors. Now focussed on the pharma sector with her role at pharmaphorum, Hannah is embracing the challenges of working within a fast growing media organisation in this rapidly changing industry sector.

For any queries or contribution suggestions, please contact her here or via Twitter @Hannah_Blake2.

What does the future look like for Boehringer Ingelheim?