The full story about VWR


VWR International has weathered all types of storms – literally – from floods, fires and earthquakes to mergers, acquisitions and name changes. And in many ways, the early days of VWR and its predecessors came together, much like the present-day VWR, by combining a series of entrepreneurial talents and organisations over the years. Here is a brief look back at the people and events that shaped our rich history.

The company was founded in 1852 as the John Taylor Company, and originally served the gold mining industry in California.

  • John Taylor

The dream began in 1849. The never-give-up mentality of VWR started with a man named John Taylor who began his journey from New York to Sacramento, California in the pursuit of gold. Though he did not stumble upon a goldmine, the business he began would prove to play an integral part in the birth of what we now know as VWR International. But success did not come easily as Taylor met with a flood, a case of malaria and a devastating fire before succeeding, in 1852, with the John Taylor Company, Druggist & Chemical Glassware. When Taylor reached retirement around 1901, his brother merged the business with F.W. Braun Company.

  • Frederick W. Braun

At that time, Frederick W. Braun, who shared Taylor’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit, was running a very successful business serving the mining, assay and laboratory fields. Though Braun would soon meet with adversity similar to that which plagued Taylor’s early years in California, Braun, like Taylor, would prove unstoppable. The F.W. Braun Company withstood the Great Earthquake of San Francisco in 1906, although it destroyed nearly its entire inventory, and soon Braun was moving onto new business ventures. Two years later, he severed his ties with the F.W. Braun Corporation and merged forces with Gustav Knecht and Richard Heimann, two trusted Braun employees, to form Braun-Knecht-Heimann (B-K-H).

The merger produced several new company products, such as scientific equipment and items relating to oil refinery laboratories. Heimann outlived both Braun and Knecht and was able to successfully navigate B-K-H through World War II and a changing economy. By the end of the war, Heimann retired and sold his company to George Van Waters and Nat Rogers.

  • George Van Waters and Nat Rogers

Van Waters and Rogers had been in business since 1924 when they formed a business partnership in downtown Seattle buying and selling naval stores, paints, raw materials as caustic soda and cotton linters.

Van Waters and Rogers grew their business through several acquisitions. Their first purchase was in 1928 – the Bourret Kirkwood Company, a laundry and dry cleaning supply firm. With the desire to expand even further, they travelled to Seattle in 1930, where they first learned of B-K-H and agreed to become its Northwest distributor. At that same time, they also purchased a Portland-based company called S.L. Abbott Company and a cotton linters sales business based in Los Angeles. In 1939 the additional purchase of the Arthur Pittack Company put them in the feed and fertilizer business, and they also began to specialise in industrial textiles and related items.

Similar to B-K-H, Van Waters and Rogers kept busy during World War II and organised the Agricultural Chemical Department, opened their Dallas office and purchased M.W. Park, a cotton linter company based out of San Francisco. Then, in 1950 Van Waters and Rogers bought B-K-H. They also acquired 50 percent stock interest in Scientific Supplies Company of Seattle, securing the remaining 50 percent two years later. In 1953, they purchased the F.W. Braun Company, then known as the Braun Chemical Company. Now the ventures that had been started by both John Taylor and Frederick Braun were all under one roof.

  • Modern-Day Moves

In 1966 the Van Waters and Rogers Company merged with United Pacific Corporation to form VWR United Corporation, and in 1970, the acquisition of Will Scientific expanded the company’s scientific apparatus business to a huge Eastern U.S. market. This led to the creation of VWR Scientific a year later, which quickly became the largest non-manufacturing apparatus distributor in the nation.

By 1988, VWR Corporation was made up of five divisions – VWR Scientific, VWR Graphics, VWR Textiles and Supplies, Momentum Textiles and Acacia/VWR Electronics. However, a year later, the decision was made to focus solely on the distribution of laboratory supplies and equipment. As a result, the non-lab divisions formed a new company; VWR Corporation relocated its headquarters to the Philadelphia area; and a string of lab distribution company acquisitions began to gain leadership positions in the science education market, Canada and Puerto Rico.

In 1993, VWR became the sole distributor of laboratory chemicals and related products for BDH Ltd. of Canada, a Merck KGaA company. The relationship with Merck KGaA grew the following year when VWR and Bender & Hobein, another Merck KGaA company, joined forces. In 1999, Merck KGaA, which was a major investor and shareholder in VWR, acquired the remaining shares of the company. At the same time, Merck was also building its’ European distribution business by acquiring the companies that would eventually form Merck Eurolab. And in 2001 the European and North American distribution organisations have become: VWR International.

  • Enter CD&R

In April 2004, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice (CD&R), one of the oldest and most respected private equity investment firms in the world, acquired VWR from Merck KGaA. CD&R’s goal is to hold a special position in the private equity industry because of its unique vision, values and mix of operating and financial talent. By providing “important insights into what constitutes best practice in the ownership, management and governance of corporate enterprises” they build good business with staying power and creating lasting economic benefits for customers, employees, suppliers and investors. New owners help to grow businesses and take VWR to the next level by company, expand its markets in Europe and into new area like in Asia for instance.

  • And then came MDP

In June 2007, VWR has been acquired by Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC (MDP), based in Chicago, one of the most experienced and successful private equity investment firms in the United States. MDP manage an approximate $14 billion pool of capital earmarked for making new and follow-on investments in portfolio companies when attractive opportunities arise. In addition to having invested in a variety of general manufacturing and service industries, MDP's principals have developed investment expertise in several specific industries, including basic industries, communications, consumer, financial services, and health care. MDP’s global holdings, experience in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East complement VWR sourcing and customer service goals.

MDP is bringing tremendous financial and strategic capabilities to help grow the company with expansion opportunities via acquisitions and geographic expansion.