Ten facts about GSK’s heritage

GSK has a heritage going back 300 years. GlaxoSmithKline was formed with the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham in 2000. SmithKline Beecham goes back to the founding of John K Smiths in 1830, Beechams in 1843 and Horlicks in 1873. The earliest entity in GSK’s family tree was Silvanus Bevan’s Plough Court Apothecary in London in 1715, which eventually became Allen and Hanburys in 1856, joining Glaxo Laboratories, Burroughs Wellcome and MacFarlan Smith, amongst others, to become Glaxo Wellcome in 1995.

Today, GSK employs some 100,000 people across nearly 150 countries. It is the world’s biggest vaccines company and a leading global company in tackling respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases and HIV. It is also the world’s biggest consumer healthcare business behind many famous household brands.

Fact 1

Silvanus Bevan was an eminent scientist of his time and was nominated as a Fellow of the Royal Society by his friend Sir Isaac Newton.

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Fact 2

Wellcome invented and trademarked the word ‘tabloid’ in 1884 for its small pressed pills. The term was then attached to an increasing array of products and moved into common usage for small easily handed items before becoming associated with compact-sized newspapers.

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Fact 3

The work of John Barry at Allen and Hanburys (1840s) meant that cod liver oil could be better purified to create a smooth, golden and more palatable oil. Previously those wanting to enjoy its benefits had to consume a brown fishy sludge.

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Fact 4

Burroughs Wellcome made medicine chests containing Tabloid products. They promoted them by donating chests to high profile users such as Arctic, Antarctic and jungle explorers, and the royal family. A miniature version was even made for Queen Mary’s famous dolls house at Windsor Castle while a chest remained in the Houses of Parliament until the early 1980s. (By the way, the polar explorers also took a stock of Horlicks with them.)

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Fact 5

Joseph Nathan and Company realised that they needed a more appealing name for their infant milk ‘Defiance’. They started with the word Lacto and added letters until they finally settled on the name Glaxo.

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Fact 6

In the late 19th century, Beechams was one of the world’s most prolific advertisers, placing local language adverts in some 7000 newspapers around the world. In 1891 the Beechams advertising budget was £120,000 (now equivalent to over £10 million). 

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Fact 7

Wellcome isolated Digoxin from the foxglove plant in 1930 for the treatment of heart failure. The company then went on to cultivate fields of foxgloves close to their factory at Dartford

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Fact 8

Glaxo produced over 80 per cent of all penicillin doses in the UK field and base hospitals during WWII. 

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Fact 9

Wellcome and Glaxo both developed Polio vaccines in the 1950s and contributed to the eradication of the disease in the developed world. Now GSK is continuing to push for this across the rest of the world, working alongside the global vaccines alliance, GAVI, and Save the Children. 

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Fact 10

Five people who worked for the companies that now make up GSK were awarded Nobel prizes. Sir Henry Dale (1936 winner) – for showing the role of acetylcholine in neural transmission; Sir John Vane (1982) for work on understanding the mechanism of aspirin on prostaglandins; and a joint award to Dr George Hitchings, Dr Gertrude Elion and Sir James Black (all 1988), for their discoveries of important principles for drug selection that later led to the discovery of a host of new medicines. GSK also has links to a sixth Nobel Laureate Emil von Behring, who was recognised in 1901 for developing the diphtheria vaccine, who used his prize money to found what is now GSK’s Marburg vaccines site in Germany.

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