The namesake and founder of Beiersdorf AG: Paul Carl Beiersdorf, 1880s.
In 1880, the 44-year-old pharmacist, Paul C. Beiersdorf, moved from Silesia to Hamburg to build a new life for himself and his family. At the time, the streets and paths were still used by horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships dominated the harbor scene. The Speicherstadt that is so famous today hadn’t even been built yet and the area around the “Michel” – where Beiersdorf wanted to begin his new livelihood with a pharmacy – was a working-class neighborhood. The life expectancy in this part of the city was supposedly still under the average of the German Empire at the time – barely 40 years.
Unfortunately, the whole street was destroyed in the Second World War and no longer exists today.
The hygiene situation at the end of the 19th century was in no way comparable to ours today. Many diseases had not yet been studied or, as in the case of tuberculosis, had not even been discovered. Thus one would presume that an investment in a pharmacy at this time would have been a lucrative business decision. Unfortunately, for Paul Beiersdorf, this was not the case. When he bought the pharmacy at 22 Mühlenstraße, Beiersdorf didn’t know that the previous owner didn’t have a good reputation – and even after the change in ownership its potential clientele went out of their way to avoid the pharmacy.
Paul Beiersdorf’s first patent is considered the founding document of Beiersdorf AG today, 1882.
For a while, Paul Beiersdorf desperately searched for a solution to avoid losing his new livelihood right away. Coincidentally, while consulting doctors on physiological and food technology research methods, he met one of the most important skin doctors of his time: Paul Gerson Unna. Shortly after this, the later professor and Paul Beiersdorf collaborated on a project: the development of a revolutionary medicinal plaster that would adhere to skin for a long time and not bond with the pharmaceutical ingredients. They succeeded: on March 28th, 1882, Beiersdorf received the patent for a new kind of process for the manufacture of coated plasters.This day is still considered the founding date of the company today.
One of the first archive photos of a Beiersdorf lab, 1914.
After that, Paul Beiersdorf sold his pharmacy in 1883, and opened his “Dermato-therapeutical Preparations Laboratory” in a new location in Hamburg Altona. There he devoted himself almost exclusively to the further development of his plasters. But what did his lab look like? There was no electricity from electrical outlets and no electric light. Thomas Alva Edison had only invented the light bulb in 1879 in the U.S.; it wasn’t until the late 1890s that Germany was able to provide electricity to large areas with power plants. Presumably Paul Beiersdorf worked with gas lighting, though it was extremely flammable and not very bright. The telephone had been invented, but the Deutsche Post didn’t begin to install the first telephones until 1881. In order to contact Paul Gerson Unna when he had scientific questions, Beiersdorf had to find him in person or write him a letter.
The first gutta-percha-plasters were sold by Beiersdorf in paper bags with hand-written labels.
In 1890, Paul Beiersdorf sold the company, which now had 11 employees, to the pharmacist Dr. Oscar Troplowitz, for tragic personal reasons. His greatest achievement, however, was not forgotten: with the gutta-percha-plasters he created the nucleus of today’s global company that was named after him. This is a good reason on this March 28th, 2017, to spend a little time with the founding history of the company.