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Our history

“We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits.”

– George Merck

For over 130 years, we've been guided by the view that great medicines and vaccines change the world.

Our legacy of inventing medicines and vaccines continues to this day. We adapt our business not only for the next quarter but for the next quarter century.

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Merck & Co. truck on New York City street

Merck & Co. founded

Merck & Co. was founded in the U.S. on January 1, 1891. George Merck, age 23, established the company to distribute fine chemicals throughout New York City and the neighboring areas.

Merck Manual

The first Merck Manual published

The first Merck Manual was published in 1899. Treatments in the first manual included bloodletting for acute bronchitis, arsenic for impotence and almond bread for diabetes. The Merck Manual went on to become one of the most widely used medical references.

George W. Merck on the cover of Time Magazine

George W. Merck became president of our company

George Merck's son, George W. Merck, began his career in the packing and shipping department in 1914, and he received training in most branches of the business. He would lead Merck through the 1927 merger with Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten Co. and turned his attention toward building Merck's research capacity, catalyzing the company's reputation for innovation.

Technician working with lab equipment

Merck Research Laboratory created

The Merck Research Laboratory was founded in Rahway, New Jersey. The laboratory represented Merck's initial foray into pharmacological research and included three separate divisions: Pure Research, the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research and Applied Research.

Vitamin B1 synthesized

Merck first synthesized vitamin B₁ and published the results in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The development allowed for mass production of the vitamin, and within a few years, the product had contributed to the reduction of vitamin B₁ deficiency (beriberi). In subsequent years, Merck's management committed the company to isolating and synthesizing vitamins and making them more widely available.

Merck employee working with machinery
Nurse prepares syringe to give dose to patient in hospital bed

Funded the discovery of and distributed breakthrough antibiotic streptomycin

Tuberculosis was historically a leading cause of death in the U.S. In 1943, Dr. Selman Waksman and Albert Schatz discovered streptomycin, the first effective treatment for the disease. Merck supported Dr. Waksman's research lab and held the new drug's patent rights. Once its significant health benefits were recognized, Merck relinquished its exclusive patent on the antibiotic to ensure maximum patient access.

By 1950, tuberculosis-related deaths in the U.S. fell by nearly 50 percent.

Scientist observing chickens indoors

Merck entered the animal health market with sulfaquinoxaline

After years of extensive testing, Merck brought S.Q. (sulfaquinoxaline) to market. The product, used to prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic poultry disease, formally ushered Merck into the field of animal health.

Female employees working with machinery

Cortisone first commercially synthesized

Dr. Lewis Sarett, a researcher at Merck Research Laboratory in Rahway, developed CORTONE (cortisone). The drug was used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatic fever and other related chronic diseases which were often fatal and for which there was no known effective treatment.

George W. Merck giving speech

Medicine is for the people

In a defining moment for the company, George W. Merck gave a talk at the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond, during which he made a famous statement about how the medical and pharmaceutical community could be successful:

"We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear."

This philosophy is embraced by our leaders and employees to this day.

Man changes sign to read Merck Sharp & Dohme

Merck merged with Sharp & Dohme

The merger brought together Merck's extensive chemical research and manufacturing facilities with Sharp & Dohme's pharmaceutical development, marketing expertise and international presence. Sharp & Dohme's West Point, Pennsylvania facilities were included in the merger.

Group of people standing by MSD logo outdoors

The Merck Foundation was created

Merck established the Merck Company Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to charitable giving, with an initial contribution of $500,000. To date, the Merck Foundation has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations.

DIURIL launched to treat high blood pressure

The release of DIURIL (chlorothiazide) signaled the company's emergence as a leading cardiovascular company. Since the introduction of DIURIL, we have been at the forefront of developing new treatments to fight high blood pressure and heart disease. The “Diuril Man,” a transparent plastic figurine showing the heart, lungs, kidneys, ureters and bladder, helped Merck show physicians the value of the breakthrough product.

Herd of reindeer walking through the snow

Treatment for trichinosis for animals discovered

In humans, trichinosis (caused by eating raw or undercooked meat) can cause high fever, muscle pain and swelling and other serious symptoms. In 1961, a Merck research team led by Dr. William Campbell discovered thiabendazole, the first drug known to kill the trichinella parasite in sheep, goat, cattle and pigs. When the reindeer populations of the Arctic Circle became severely afflicted by parasitic infections, Merck scientists traveled north to treat them with THIBENZOLE (thiabendazole), a deworming agent.

The treatment not only helped protect the reindeer, but also the indigenous peoples who depended on them for survival.

Vial of M-M-R vaccine with syringe

Merck began distributing the M-M-R vaccine

Merck began distributing a combined measles-mumps-rubella (M-M-R) vaccine that was developed by Drs. Maurice Hilleman and Eugene B. Buynak. M-M-R was composed of three vaccines: ATTENUVAX, an updated version of Merck's measles vaccine; MERUVAX, a rubella vaccine; and MUMPSVAX, Merck's mumps vaccine.

Vial of M-M-R vaccine with syringe

First pneumonia vaccine was approved

PNEUMOVAX (pneumococcal vaccine polyvalent), Merck's pneumonia vaccine, was approved. Research and development of the vaccine was carried out under the direction of Dr. Maurice Hilleman.

FDA approved Mefoxin

MEFOXIN was indicated for the treatment of many infections caused by certain bacteria, including gram-positive and gram-negative pathogens.

Scientist observing using microscopes
Doctor observing x-rays

VASOTEC was approved by the FDA

VASOTEC (enalapril), an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor for treatment of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, was approved by the FDA. VASOTEC became Merck's first billion-dollar product in 1988.

Woman playing with baby

Hepatitis B vaccine was approved by the FDA

Merck's recombinant hepatitis B vaccine, RECOMBIVAX HB [hepatitis b vaccine (recombinant)], was approved by the FDA, the first recombinant vaccine for human use. In 1989, Merck transferred its RECOMBIVAX HB vaccine technology to the Chinese government, where hepatitis B was the largest public health challenge in the country with an estimated 100 million carriers of the disease.

Female scientist posing with medical equipment

Merck introduced the first commercial statin

Merck introduced lovastatin, the first of the statin family of medicines to be approved by the FDA. It emerged from decades of study by scientists in the U.S. and abroad, at universities, independent laboratories and at Merck.

Dr. Roy Vagelos working with African villagers

Merck committed to donate Mectizan - as much as needed for as long as needed - with the goal to eliminate river blindness.

In 1987, Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos announced Merck's commitment to donate Mectizan - as much as needed for as long as needed - with the goal to help eliminate river blindness. In order to reach this goal, Merck leaders recognized that many organizations with unique skills would need to work together as a team. Thus, the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) was created as a groud-breaking public-private partnership that becomes influential in the development of a number of other drug donation programs.

Group of scientists pose in laboratory


CRIXIVAN (INDINAVIR SULFATE), for the treatment of HIV, was approved by the FDA after a review period of 42 days. Prior to the FDA approval in 1995, in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, patients and HIV advocacy groups, Merck decided to offer the Crixivan Program. Through this program, Merck made the drug available at no cost to selective patients before it was commercially available.

Merck Frosst site

SINGULAIR approved by FDA

SINGULAIR (montelukast sodium) was approved by the FDA for the prevention and treatment of asthma. It was the product of nearly twenty years of research conducted at our Merck Frosst discovery hub in Kirkland, Canada, into a new class of asthma medicines called leukotriene blockers.

Two female colleagues pose with laptop showing computer rendering

JANUVIA (sitagliptin) approved by the FDA.

The FDA approved JANUVIA (sitagliptin), a DPP-4 inhibitor approved to treat Type 2 diabetes.

Scientist works with large medical equipment

GARDASIL approved by the FDA

The FDA approved Merck's GARDASIL [human papillomavirus quadrivalent (types 6, 11, 16, 18) vaccine, recombinant] for the prevention of cervical cancer caused by certain HPV types.

In 2007, Merck committed to donating 3 million doses of GARDASIL over 5 years to support vaccination programs in the world's lowest-income nations.

Merck and Schering-Plough merged

Merck and Schering-Plough completed a merger and began combined operations. The purchase made the company the second largest pharmaceutical company in United States by revenue.

Shareholders attend merger meeting
Pregnant mother holding hands with young girl

Global Merck for Mothers initiative began

In 2010, one woman died every two minutes during childbirth and pregnancy. Many of these deaths were preventable. In response, we launched Merck for Mothers, a global initiative with partners to improve the health and well-being of women before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth. As of 2019, the effort has reached more than nine million women globally in 48 countries.

Dog owner holding out a ball for an attentive Labrador

BRAVECTO approved by the FDA for the Merck Animal Health division

The FDA approved BRAVECTO (fluralaner), the first chewable tablets for dogs to be shown to kill fleas and multiple tick species for 12 weeks in a single dose.

Computer rendering of cancerous tissue at micro scale

Merck received accelerated approval of KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab)

The FDA approved KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab), the first anti-PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) therapy. It had previously received breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA.

Two people wearing personal protective equipment walk through medical tents

ERVEBO® approved by the FDA

From Guinea to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the world was dealing with the largest and most complex Ebola outbreaks since the virus was first discovered in 1976. As the outbreaks remained a global health challenge, scientists from Merck, along with numerous external collaborators from all sectors, remained at the forefront of the efforts to address this deadly disease.

Merck received FDA approval for ERVEBO® (Ebola Zaire Vaccine, Live) for the prevention of disease caused by Zaire ebolavirus in individuals 18 years of age and older.