George Rosenkranz

Born: August 20, 1916 | Budapest, HU
Died: June 23, 2019 | Atherton, CA, US

George Rosenkranz was born in Budapest, Hungary, and studied chemical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. While en-route to Ecuador to assume an academic position at the University of Quito, Rosenkranz decided to stay in Havana and eventually started a career in industry, most notably at Syntex Corporation where he climbed the managerial ranks to CEO. Rosenkranz concludes the interview with a discussion of Syntex's growth and future endeavors.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0159
No. of pages: 37

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
17 May 1997
New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

George Rosenkranz begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood years in Budapest, Hungary. After graduation from the German School, Rosenkranz attended the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. There, he received his BS in chemical engineering in 1938 and his PhD in 1939. Rosenkranz studied under several luminaries in chemistry, most notably, Leopold Ruzicka. After receiving his PhD, Rosenkranz worked as a research assistant in Leopold Ruzicka’s lab, where he headed a group researching triterpenes. In 1941, Rosenkranz had agreed to teach organic chemistry at the University of Quito, leaving in October 1941 to make the long trip to Ecuador. His three-week-long boat trip eventually stalled in Cuba. While waiting for the boat to Ecuador, Rosenkranz decided to remain in Havana. There he also met his future wife, Edith Stein. Rosenkranz soon landed a position as Director of Research at the Vieta Plasencia Lab. In 1945, Rosenkranz joined Syntex Corporation in Mexico as Scientific Director. His immediate work was on progesterone synthesis. Rosenkranz hired several up-and-coming scientists to work at Syntex, including Carl Djerassi and Alejandro Zaffaroni. Syntex’s major successes were the synthesis of cortisone and Djerassi’s synthesis of oral contraceptives, thus turning a little-known company into a major pharmaceutical powerhouse. In 1982, Rosenkranz retired as chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Syntex. Rosenkranz concludes the interview with a discussion of Syntex’s growth, and thoughts on his family and future endeavors.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1938 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule) BS Chemical Engineering
1939 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule) Dr. Sci. Tech.

Professional Experience

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1939 to 1941
Research Assistant

Vieta Plasencia Lab

1941 to 1945
Director of Research

Syntex S.A.

1945 to 1980
Scientific Director
1949 to 1956
Vice President and Director of Research
1957 to 1980
President and Chairman of the Board
1976 to 1982
Chairman of the Board and CEO

Industria, Ciencia, Tecnologia (ICT)

1996
Founder

Honors

Year(s) Award
1949

Mexican Citizenship Award, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the nation

1994

Dr. Leopold Rio de la Loza National Prize of Pharmaceutical Sciences

About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.