There is a great deal of discussion as to what was the first pharmaceutical blister package. Part of this controversy depends on one’s definition of a blister package. Blister packaging consists of several components that interact to accomplish the packaging of an oral solid dose medicine: the design of the blister and blister card, the materials that are used for the cavity or pocket and lidding, and the machines and tools that form the cavity or pocket, fill the product, and seal the lidding film to the blister. One key element: how does one get the medicine out of the blister. Indeed, that element influences the answer as to what was the first pharmaceutical blister package.
In 1939 Russell Earl Marker, an American chemist who developed the octane rating system for Ethyl Corporation, successfully made synthetic progesterone from chemical constituents found in Mexican yams in a process known as Marker degradation. Marker further discovered that he could use a giant Mexican yam as a starting substrate for the process. The use of Mexican yams eventually allowed Marker to undercut competing methods pioneered by Percy Julian using soy beans as a starting substrate.In 1944, Marker cofounded Syntex with two partners in Mexico City. He left the company a year later. Syntex broke the monopoly of European pharmaceutical companies on steroid hormones. The price of progesterone fell almost 200 fold over the next eight years. Chemists Carl Djerassi, Luis Miramontes, and George Rosenkranz at Syntex in Mexico City synthesized the first orally highly active progestin, norethindrone, in 1951. Syntex then began to look for partners to assist developing and marketing a contraceptive.In 1952 Frank Colton, chief chemist at G.D. Searle, independently synthesized the orally highly active progestins norethynodrel (an isomer of norethindrone), in 1952, and norethandrolone in 1953. Working with Dr. John Rock he formulated Searle’s product, Enovid, which launched first in the US and was packaged in a dark amber glass bottle. Enovid 10 mg was approved by the FDA for the treatment of menstrual disorders on June 10, 1957. Enovid 10 mg was approved by the agency for contraception on June 23, 1960. Enovid 5 mg was approved on February 15, 1961.The pharmaceutical industry began to perceive the huge potential market for The Pill, and 13 major drug companies (nine of them American) developed their own versions of oral contraceptives. Ortho Novum, Syntex and Parke Davis were the next U.S. companies to enter the market. In Europe two key players were Schering AG (Germany) and Organon (The Netherlands).In 1962, David P. Wagner was granted U.S. patent number 3,143,207 for the first oral contraceptive pill dispenser. He designed the dispenser to be the size of a makeup compact, so women could carry it discreetly in their purses. He spent the next decade litigating pharmaceutical companies to receive royalty/licensing fees for his patented design.
As contraceptives gained popularity the limitations of a bottle in assisting women to take contraceptives at the correct time became painfully clear and the impetus for the development of blister packages (the calendar pack). Three blister packages for contraceptives entered the market at about the same time: Organon’s Lyndiol, Schering AG’s Anovlar, and Ortho’s Novum. While it is unclear as to the exact dates these packages entered the market, Hassia’s machine (used by Schering) entered first, followed by Höfliger & Karg’s.
Timelines and pictures of early packaging as well as a transcript of the movie The Pill (produced as part of The American Experience) can be found at PBS’s site.