Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Robert L. McNeil, Jr. begins his interview by discussing his parent's heritage and the evolution of the Firm of Robert McNeil, the drugstore started by his grandfather. As young men, McNeil and his brother worked as errand boys for their father. During the summers, McNeil traveled, working on a ranch and as a camp counselor. McNeil attended high school at Germantown Academy, and went to Yale University to study physiological chemistry and bacteriology. After receiving his B.S. degree, he returned to Philadelphia. Subsequent to his grandfather's death, McNeil, at the young age of twenty, began his career in the family business, which by then had evolved into McNeil Laboratories, Inc., headed by his father, R. Lincoln McNeil. By attending pharmaceutical conferences as well as enrolling in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy's four-year program and Temple University's Graduate Pharmacy School course in pharmacology, under Professor James Munch, McNeil was able to gain the experience necessary to eventually head a successful pharmaceutical company. One of McNeil's first challenges was helping McNeil Laboratories update their manufacturing practices in keeping with the new Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. With his strong knowledge of pharmacology, and the advice of many of the top men in Philadelphia's medical field, McNeil was able to introduce what would become some of the top-selling pharmaceuticals in the nation, including Butisol and eventually Tylenol. While helping McNeil Laboratories to reach a new level of success, McNeil was on the board of many pharmaceutical organizations, and was the president of the Philadelphia Drug Exchange, as well as the Philadelphia branch of the American Pharmaceutical Association. McNeil also found time to marry and to help raise three children, along with a stepson from his wife's previous marriage. In 1959, McNeil Laboratories was sold to Johnson & Johnson and after a seven-year “transitional” period, McNeil retired and entered the venture capital field. He also devoted time to the study of our Colonial history and material culture and to the development of The Barra Foundation (originally named The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Foundation). McNeil concludes his interview with a short comment on his views of the fast evolution of today's pharmaceutical field.
|1936||Yale University||BS||Physiological Chemistry and Bacteriology|
|1938||Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science||BSc||Pharmacy|
|1970||Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science||DSc, Hon||Pharmacy|
The Barra Foundation
Remington Memorial Prize, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science
Member, American Antiquarian Society
Fellow, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Wallace Award, American-Scottish Foundation
Fellow, American Philosophical Society
Gold Medal, American Institute of Chemists
Table of Contents
Background of mother and father. Siblings. Grandfather starts the family drugstore business in 1879 in Philadelphia. Religious background. The Firm. Working in neighborhood hospital. Grandfather's stroke. Creation of McNeil Laboratories, Inc. Pharmacy era ending.
Errand boy as a young man. Summer experiences punching cattle in Montana and as a camp counselor. Skips third grade and enters Germantown Academy for fourth grade. Excels in high school sports.
The decision to go to Yale University. Sheffield Scientific School. College sports. Organic chemistry with Professor Robert Coghill. Father has two operations. Returns home. Enrolls at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy four-year degree program. Finishes in two years with distinction. Attends Temple University's Graduate Pharmacy School for pharmacology.
Living at home to help with family. Attends pharmaceutical conferences and meetings. Passing of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 has repercussions on pharmaceutical business. Complying with the 1938 laws. Relationship with father. Firm grows despite Depression. Development of Butisol. Remaining in industry during World War II.
Continued growth and expansion. A new plant. Build up of research department to include pharmacologists and organic chemists. Adjunct professor for manufacturing course at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Tylenol trials and success.
Meeting the future Mrs. McNeil. Attending and presiding over various pharmaceutical conferences and meetings. Life in a family business. Johnson & Johnson buys McNeil Laboratories, Inc. Thoughts on pharmaceutical business today.
Letter from McNeil Laboratories, Inc. to Dr. Charles Gruber regarding the toxicological and pharmacological properties of Butisol, and the Outline of Program for Butisol Investigations; Status as of 25 August 1944.
Statement of Policy, The Barra Foundation, Inc.
Projects Revealing our American Culture and National Heritage (relating to the period 1750-1825), The Barra Foundation, Inc.
Publications Sponsored by The Barra Foundation, Inc.
About the Interviewer
Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.