Within a year of his birth in 1892 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Abe Plough moved with his family to Memphis, where his father Moses operated a clothing and furnishings store. Abe Plough attended Market Street School where a teacher taught him to calculate figures without pencil or paper. He said this “mental arithmetic” served him well in his business career since he never needed a pencil to calculate his acquisition of thirty companies for the Schering-Plough Corporation at a cost of over $1 billion.
Plough received his only other formal education at St. Paul Street Grammar School, from which he graduated. After school and on weekends he worked at the George V. Francis drug store without pay because he wanted to learn the drug business, determined that it would be his future. Moses Plough lent his son $125 to start his own business, Plough Chemical Company, in 1908. At age sixteen Abe Plough was owner, manager, and only employee of the new business, located in one small room above his father’s store. Using dishpans for mixing the chemicals, his first formula was for Plough’s Antiseptic Healing Oil, a “sure cure for any ill of man or beast.” On days when he was not bottling his healing oil, Plough set out in his father’s horse-drawn buggy to sell his product to drug stores and country merchants.
Success came almost immediately for the new enterprise. Within two years it doubled in size, entered the patent drug business, and branched out into cosmetics. Adding aspirin to his line of products in 1920, Plough bought the St. Joseph Company, a step he called his “first on the road to the big time.”
Despite the worldwide depression in 1929, Plough raised his employees’ salaries and added one hundred others to his drug store and factory labor forces. Plough, Incorporated, moved in 1951 to 3022 Jackson Avenue, a $2 million plant encompassing 250,000 square feet on six acres of land. The business reported net sales of $254.5 million by 1954, a figure that doubled by 1962. It merged in 1971 with Schering Corporation, primarily a manufacturer of prescription pharmaceuticals. Plough was Chairman of both Plough, Incorporated, and Schering-Plough.
Plough retired from business in 1976 to devote his talents and energies to his other chief interest, philanthropy. His generosity to the community is legendary. His many gifts were often made as “challenge grants,” his stated goal “to help the greatest number of people in order to do the most good.” His legacy lives on not only in the business he created, which bears his name, but also in his deeds of generosity and leadership. The Plough Foundation continues to be devoted to the welfare of the community and is administered in his name by his heirs.
Selma Lewis, Biblical People in the Bible Belt: The Jewish Community of Memphis, Tennessee, 1840s-1960s (1998)