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Hungarian-born father of birth control pill dies at 102

George Rosenkranz, the Hungarian-born Mexican chemist who helped synthesize the key ingredient in what became the oral contraceptive known as “the pill,” has died at the age of 102 at his home in Atherton, California, The New York Times reported.

George Rosenkranz (photo: Science History Institute)

Born György Rosenkranz in Budapest in 1916, the only child of Bertalan and Etel Rosenkranz, his childhood was filled with an appreciation of art, music, theater, and contract bridge. While he had a gift for languages, eventually becoming fluent in half a dozen, he found scientific studies, particularly chemistry, more appealing.

As a Hungarian Jew, Rosenkranz studied chemistry in Switzerland before fleeing Europe to escape the spread of fascism on the continent. After taking refuge in Cuba, he ended up in Mexico as the research director of Syntex, a pharmaceutical lab, where he created a team which achieved breakthroughs in the development of steroid hormone drugs.

Apart from his contribution to birth control science, Rosenkranz’s team achieved the first practical synthesis of cortisone, which is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and to reduce inflammations in muscles and joints, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Rosenkranz was a world-class bridge player and one of the most successful in Mexico, winning multiple titles and representing Mexico in the World Team Olympiad three times from 1972 to 1996. He wrote more than a dozen books on bridge.