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Twentieth Century


Glaxo Wellcome site
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The Wellcome Production Centre at Dartford started in 1889 following the acquisition of the site of the former Phoenix Paper Mills by Burroughs, Wellcome and Co. as its manufacturing site. In 1905 an Experimental Department was set up to improve manufacturing processes. For over a century the company (now Glaxo Wellcome) has manufactured a wide range of products for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease. Throughout the twentieth century the aim had been to produce medicinal products of the highest quality and purity, an aim laid down at the start by the two partners who founded the firm, Silas. M. Burroughs and Henry. S. Wellcome.

Tabloid tea
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The company produced a wide range of compressed pharmaceutical products bearing the distinctive unicorn trade mark which were sold under a variety of brand names. The manufacture of these products required special machinery which provided scientifically formulated medicines in standard dosages convenient for packaging. The most important of these brand names was 'Tabloid', a word invented by Henry Wellcome and registered as a trade mark as early as 1884. As well as medicines, the 'Tabloid' brand name was applied to various products such as photographic chemicals and Tabloid tea.

An important part of the Dartford site was a 'Materia Medica' farm, first set up in 1904. Here, a variety of crops were grown as a basis for medicines and compounds. Amongst the main plants grown here were deadly nightshade, foxglove, henbane, thornapple and aconitine. With the increasing use of synthetic compounds in the pharmaceutical industry after about 1930 the farm became less important. In 1929, the European foxglove was used to produce 'Lanoxin' used in the treatment of heart failure.

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An important sideline produced by Burroughs Wellcome at Dartford were their medicine chests which were supplied to explorers, expeditions, and royalty. Medicine chests were made for a variety of purposes. In different continents different diseases were prevalent and a specialised medicine chest was available for whatever part of the world was to be visited.

The change of name from Burroughs Wellcome & Co. to The Wellcome Foundation Ltd. in 1924 came at the beginning of a period of major advances in chemotherapy. One of the most important medical breakthroughs at Dartford was the production of insulin used in the treatment of diabetes. 'Sulphetrone' used in the treatment of leprosy was another product manufactured at Dartford.

During the 1940s there were few new products and little new investment. However, the 1950s saw the introduction of a number of important products which began to transform the fortunes of the company. 'Migril', used to combat migraine was introduced in 1956. 'Alcopar', used in the treatment of hookworms in humans appeared in 1959. A whole range of important pharmaceutical products were developed and manufactured in the 1960s, particularly 'Septrin' a preparation used in the treatment of bacterial infections. As the world leader in antiviral research and marketing much time and expenditure was devoted to this field of expertise. 'Zovirax' was launched in 1981 for the treatment of herpes infections. The company also worked on the management and treatment of the HIV virus following extensive trials with the drug Retrovir. These products, together with many others manufactured at Dartford did much to improve the quality of life by preventing or treating some of the world's most important and unpleasant diseases.

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Glaxo Wellcome
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Glaxo Wellcome was formed in 1995 and at the end of the twentieth century was the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. The main production facility in Dartford had been one of the mainstays of the town's employment base for more than a century and continued to expand through the implementation of very sophisticated computer control production facilities. The new company benefited from its own research and development network with sister plants around the world creating a world network of expertise. At the end of the twentieth century the company was a major world exporter, particularly to Japan and Europe.

Next topic: Dartford industries at war


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