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Carl Duisberg was by no means predestined for a career as a chemist and long-serving Managing Director of Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co. Born in Barmen, now a district of Wuppertal, Germany, on September 29, 1861, Duisberg grew up in relatively modest surroundings. If his father had had his way, Duisberg would have taken over the small ribbon-weaving business founded by his grandfather and connected to a small farm. Yet things turned out differently — thanks to Duisberg's first chemistry lesson. This was what laid the foundation for his life-long fascination with the subject. "I want to be a chemist," the fourth-grader afterwards told his mother, who later supported this decision — even against the will of his father.
Duisberg's mother made it possible for her gifted son to attend high school. After receiving his diploma in 1878, Duisberg first enrolled in a training course in chemistry at the trade school in Wuppertal-Elberfeld — completing the year-long program in only eight months.
He began studying chemistry at Göttingen before transferring to Jena in 1880 to study under Professor Anton Geuther. Only two years later, in 1882, he received a doctorate after completing his thesis on acetoacetic ester.
After going through a brief period of unemployment and taking on a poorly paid assistant position with Professor Geuther, Duisberg volunteered for a one-year period of service with the First Bavarian Leibregiment in Munich. When he had completed his military service, Duisberg took on a part-time position at the institute of famed chemist Professor Adolf von Baeyer.
Duisberg's career really began in earnest when he went for a job interview with Carl Rumpff, the Management Board Chairman of Farbenfabriken Bayer. In 1883 Rumpff, who was looking for gifted young chemists to "make inventions," initially offered Duisberg a contract to conduct research at the University of Strasbourg for a limited period of time. Rumpff brought on board two other researchers at the same time: Martin Herzberg und Oskar Hinsberg. All three chemists would later be of tremendous importance to the company's development due in particular to important inventions in the fields of dyestuffs and pharmaceuticals. For example, Hinsberg's name is associated with the development of phenacetin, the first pharmaceutical product in Bayer's history. Duisberg's relationship with Rumpff was of great importance in another respect, too: it was through Rumpff that he met his future wife Johanna Seebohm — the Chairman's niece.
On September 29, 1884 — Duisberg's 23rd birthday — he was finally given a permanent position at Bayer. The first patent was registered under his name only 12 months later. Four years later he received full power of attorney, and in 1900 he was named to the Board of Management. Duisberg went on to serve as Managing Director of the Group from 1912 to 1925.
Carl Duisberg is one of the central figures in the history of the Bayer Group and the German health care and chemical industry as a whole. His role in nearly all developments that took place in the various parts of the company was crucial to Bayer's progress on the path to a global group of companies. The single most significant milestone in his career has to be the highly systematic planning, construction and development of the Leverkusen site. Together with Carl Bosch, Duisberg was the founding father of I.G. Farbenindustrie AG.
The former Bayer Managing Director will also be remembered for his social achievements. Under his tenure the nine-hour day was introduced at Bayer's sites, and the employees' living conditions were improved in a variety of ways. Duisberg is regarded as the prototype of the new industrialist, whose entrepreneurial mission was characterized by a commitment to society at large. Several foundations, including one that secures placements for German students at foreign universities, as well as numerous streets are named after him in memory of his achievements.
When Duisberg died in March 1935, there was hardly an honor that had not been bestowed on him: his biography contains honorary doctorates, citizenships and senator titles. The Times of London summed up Carl Duisberg's achievements in its obituary: "His country loses a man who, all things considered, I believe may be regarded as the greatest industrialist the world has yet had."