The German cities of Dortmund and Luedenscheid have decided to rename streets named after the former BAYER chief executive Carl Duisberg. Similar initiatives are also underway in Frankfurt, Wuppertal, Krefeld and Leverkusen. This carries a special weight as Wuppertal is the birth place of Carl Duisberg, Leverkusen is the home of BAYER‘s headquarters.

Carl Duisberg. Image via Wiki Commons.

Carl Duisberg is a controversial figure in German history… to say the least. Carl Duisberg became BAYER’s chief executive in 1912 and carries a great responsibility for BAYER´s global rise. He was also a brilliant chemist, but unfortunately, all that is now overshadowed by his other activities.

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In November 1916, on advice from Carl Druisberg, the kaiser’s troops began the deportation of more than 60 thousands of people from occupied Belgium : taken from their homes at gunpoint, they were put in trains for transport to German mines and factories. This was despicable, even as an act of war. “Open the large human pool of Belgium”, Druisberg is quoted as saying. Many Belgian workers didn’t survive, and those who did, did so in inhuman conditions. In a way, this set the foundation for much worse slave labor programs from WWII.

Druisberg also relentlessly pushed forth the use of BAYER’s two “miracle” drugs: Aspirin and Heroin. While Aspirin has its drawbacks, it’s certainly one of the most influential drugs of the 20th and even the 21st century. But heroin… seriously, heroin is not a miracle drug. It’s arguably the most dangerous drug on the face of the Earth, and certainly one of the most addictive; and this was known back then. When a scientist decried the addictive potential of heroin, Duisberg remarked that one had to “silence the opponents”. Even when the negative effects became obvious, the company, under Dusiberg’s rule, continued to sell it for huge profits for decades. But perhaps  the biggest thing you can fault him with is the development and implementation of “Gruenkreuz” (phosgene) and “Mustard gas”.

Not only did he help develop and implement those gases, but he aggressively pushed forth their usage – knowingly in breach of The Hague Land Warfare Convention. In Leverkusen Duisberg set up a school specifically for chemical warfare. He also supported the Nazi regime with millions in “donations” – the deal was that the government would only buy chemical products from his other company, IG Farben.

All in all, you could call Duisberg a “criminal genius” – a man who dedicated his extraordinary intelligence and huge power to making profits, with no regard to human life. The fact that Germany acknowledged this and decided to clean up his legacy is a laudable move.