Originally, it was just a name — Olga Monsanto's name, to be precise.
Around the turn of the 20th century, she married a man named John Francis Queeny. He named his artificial sweetener company after her. And over decades, that company expanded from the sweetness business into agri-chemicals, where it began to dominate the industry.
These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR's Dan Charles has put it, "lots of things that some people love to hate": Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented. Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead.
And soon Monsanto will be no more.