In 1879 two American pharmacists called Silas Burroughs and Henry Wellcome established a pharmaceutical company in London. At this time there were very few companies in Britain which manufactured drugs and pharmacists still used the traditional time-consuming and less precise pestle and mortar method to prepare medicines.
In the United States a mechanised method of making pills had been invented, and Burroughs and Wellcome began importing and selling the compressed pills. Business was good and the company acquired larger offices in Snow Hill in 1883. In the same year a factory was purchased in Wandsworth, south west London, and the company began to manufacture its own pills. The drugs were an instant success in Britain and a bigger factory was established in Dartford which remained the firm’s production centre until the 1980s.
In 1888 Burroughs Wellcome & Co. developed a new machine that could produce 600 compressed pills a minute, each pill having an unprecedented standard of precision. To eliminate the threat of competition the company registered as a trademark one of the most famous and powerful brand names in business history Tabloid, a word created by blending the words tablet and alkaloid – to denote the company’s pills.
The name was applied to the full range of the company’s products, including tabloid first aid kits and medicine chests, tabloid photographic developer and even tabloid tea. The term has now passed into general use to mean anything in compact form, in particular a newspaper format, though it is still technically the property of Burroughs Wellcome & Co.
Silas Burroughs died in 1895, leaving the company in the hands of his partner. The business flourished under Henry Wellcome’s leadership, expanding massively and setting up several reseach laboratories which employed some of the most outstanding scientists of the day.
In 1995 Wellcome merged with Glaxo to form Glaxo Wellcome plc. The company merged with SmithKline Beecham in 2000 to form GlaxoSmithKline which is currently the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in the world.