FMC revealed: The story behind the letters on Philly’s newest skyscraper

Brace yourself for a mouthful.

Diana Bowen/Billy Penn

The newest skyscraper in Philadelphia has several standout features.

Newly topped off at the site adjacent to the former US Post Office at 30th Street in University City, the building is LEED Silver Certified. It has an unusual construction that sees a slender 18-story concrete column sprout from the top of a 30-story steel structure. It sports three separate lobbies — one for the residences, one for the commercial offices and one for the luxury extended-stay hotel that all share space in the multi-use facility. (Speaking of the hotel, this is the world’s first AKA Hotel in new construction, as opposed to a historic renovation.)

But what makes the FMC Tower at Cira Centre South most obviously different from the rest of the city’s modern high-rises is its branding.

Forty-nine stories above the Schuylkill, a huge “FMC” glows bright and red, reflecting in the water and presiding over the popular walking trail that traces the river’s banks.

Few buildings in Philly are emblazoned with electrified logos in this way. Even Comcast doesn’t stamp its global headquarters with the company name spelled out in lights. As giant neon advertisements go, the FMC is relatively subtle, not horribly offensive. But it is a prominent addition to the Philly skyline.

So what does FMC stand for anyway?

Brace yourself for a mouthful: Food Machinery Corporation.

According to the company website, the name was actually crowdsourced. Founded in 1888 in Los Gatos, Calif., as the Bean Spray Pump Company, the company decided it needed a new moniker when it branched out from its original product of insecticide sprayers in 1928 and acquired two businesses that made canning machinery. A naming contest was held, and Food Machinery Corporation was the hot winning entry. (Yeah, branding was a lot stodgier back then.)

When the company entered the chemicals market in the 1940s, its name was modified slightly to Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation.

Throughout the next couple of decades, the company opened offices across the US, built a chemical research lab in Princeton and entered into joint ventures around the world, turning itself into a global chemical and manufacturing conglomerate. In 1961, its name was officially changed to FMC Corporation.

FMC first put down roots in Philadelphia in 1975, when it moved its “Chemical and Fiber & Film Group” division south from NYC. At the time, the corporate headquarters were in Chicago.

In 2001, the company spun off its equipment and machinery businesses, deciding to concentrate on chemical products. Since Philly was already the corporate home of that part of the biz, it made sense for HQ to be located here. In 2004, FMC signed a longterm lease with the Mellon Bank Center (now BNY Mellon Tower) at 1735 Market St. in Center City.

The move to Cira Centre South was announced in 2013, with FMC signing a reported 16-year, 253,000-square-foot lease in a deal that included naming rights to Brandywine Realty Trust’s as-yet-unbuilt tower. The actual move happened this past spring.

What does FMC make, exactly? Its more than 6,000 employees worldwide are spread across three segments: FMC Agricultural Solutions, FMC Health and Nutrition and FMC Lithium. Products are used for a huge variety of applications, from increasing crop yield to sterilizing mass-produced meat to helping synthesize pharmaceuticals to creating specialty substances used for energy storage.

Did you really want to know? Let’s just be thankful: At least the building’s not called the Bean Spray Tower.

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