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Pharmacy in World War II: The Drugstore

 

Pharmacy in World War II - The Drugstore

As a former pharmacist, I’ve found the history of pharmacy in World War II fascinating. So fascinating that I’ve written two novels featuring pharmacists. In On Distant Shores, pharmacist John Hutchinson serves in a pharmacy in an Army evacuation hospital in Italy, and in Anchor in the Storm, Lillian Avery works as a pharmacist in a drugstore in Boston during World War II.

Much about my profession has changed over the decades, but some things have not—the personal concern for patients, the difficult balance between health care and business, and the struggle to gain respect in the physician-dominated health-care world. Earlier I discussed the role of the pharmacist in the 1940s, today we’ll visit the local drugstore and see how its role changed during the war, and then I’ll review the role of pharmacists in the US military.

Welcome to the Corner Drugstore—1939

Street scene, including drugstore, Cascade, Idaho, 1940s (Library of Congress)

Street scene, including drugstore, Cascade, Idaho, 1940s (Library of Congress)

Perkins’ Drugs stands on the corner of Main Street and Elm, where it’s stood all your life. Large glass windows boast ads for proprietary medications and candy, and a neon mortar-and-pestle blinks at you. When you open the door, bells jangle. The drugstore is open seven days a week, sixteen hours a day, so you know it’ll always be there for you. To your right, old-timers and teenagers sit at the soda fountain on green vinyl stools, discussing politics and the high school football game. The soda jerk waves at you.

Advertisement for Whistle Soda, featuring a drugstore soda fountain, 1940s

Advertisement for Whistle Soda, featuring a drugstore soda fountain, 1940s

You pass clean shelves stocked full of proprietary medications, toiletries, cosmetics, hot water bottles, hairpins and curlers, stockings, cigarettes, candy, and bandages. You know where everything is—and if you can’t find it, Mr. Perkins or his staff will be sure to help you.

"Southington, Connecticut. Girls at drugstore." May 1942 (Photo by Fenno Jacobs for the Office of War Information)

“Southington, Connecticut. Girls at drugstore.” May 1942 (Photo by Fenno Jacobs for the Office of War Information)

The owner, Mr. Perkins, is hard at work behind the prescription counter with good old Mr. Smith and Mr. Abernathy, that new young druggist Mr. Perkins hired last year. Mr. Perkins greets you by name, asks about your family, and takes your prescription. He has to mix an elixir for you. If you don’t want to wait, he’ll be happy to have his delivery boy bring it to your house. But you don’t mind waiting. You have a few items to purchase, and you’d love to sit down with a cherry Coke.

Welcome to the Corner Drugstore—1943

Sontag Cut Rate Drug Store at 5401 Wilshire Boulevard at the corner of Wilshire and Cloverdale, Los Angeles, CA, 1941 (California Historical Society via USC Digital Library)

Sontag Cut Rate Drug Store at 5401 Wilshire Boulevard at the corner of Wilshire and Cloverdale, Los Angeles, CA, 1941 (California Historical Society via USC Digital Library)

Perkins’ Drugs still stands at the corner of Main Street and Elm. Large glass windows boast Army and Navy recruitment posters. The neon sign has been removed to meet blackout regulations. The store is open for fewer hours since Mr. Smith retired and Mr. Abernathy got drafted. Mr. Perkins hired Miss Freeman. Not many people are thrilled to have a “girl pharmacist,” but if Mr. Perkins trusts her, that’s good enough for you. Perkins’ Drugs and Quality Drugs on the other side of town alternate evening hours so the town’s needs are met.

Poster for the US Office of Civilian Defense, WWII

Poster for the US Office of Civilian Defense, WWII

A placard on the door reminds you that Perkins’ Drugs is authorized by the Office of Civilian Defense as a pharmaceutical unit, meaning the store will provide a kit of medications and supplies for the casualty station in case of enemy attack. You pray the town will never need it.

Bells jangle when you open the door. The soda fountain is closed. Mr. Perkins can’t buy metal replacement parts for the machine, the soda jerk is flying fighter planes over Germany, and sugar is too scarce a commodity.

US poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII. Read more: "Make It Do--Metal Shortages in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.

US poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII

A barrel stands by the door for the scrap drive. You toss in five tin cans, washed, labels removed, tops and bottoms cut off, and flattened. Mrs. Perkins at the cash register thanks you.

You pass clean shelves with depleted stocks. Proprietary medications, cosmetics, toiletries, and medical supplies remain, but rubber hot water bottles, silk and nylon stockings, hairpins and curlers, candy, and cigarettes are in short stock—or unavailable. Most of the packaging has changed. Metal tins have been replaced by glass jars and cardboard boxes. You pick up a bottle of aspirin and a tube of toothpaste, double-checking that you brought your empty tube. Without that crumpled piece of tin, you couldn’t purchase a replacement. Tin is too dear.

At the prescription counter, Mr. Perkins greets you by name and asks about your family. Miss Freeman gives you a shy smile and you smile back. There’s a war on, and women have a patriotic duty to do men’s work so men are free to fight. Mr. Perkins frowns at your prescription for an elixir. He’s used up his weekly quota of sugar, and his stock of alcohol and glycerin are running low. Would you mind capsules instead? Of course not. Mr. Perkins phones Dr. Weber and convinces him to change the prescription. Mr. Perkins can’t have the prescription delivered—he doesn’t qualify for extra gasoline and he couldn’t find a delivery boy to hire anyway.

You and Mr. Perkins discuss war news as he sets up a wooden block with little holes punched in it, then lines the pockets with empty capsule halves. He weighs powders on a scale, mixes them in a mortar, then fills the capsule shells. After he sets the capsule tops in place, he puts the capsules in an amber glass bottle with the familiar Perkins’ Drugs label.

US poster encouraging purchase of War Stamps, WWII

US poster encouraging purchase of War Stamps, WWII

You buy a few War Stamps. Your wages are higher than ever with the war on, and with all the shortages there’s nothing to buy. Besides, War Bonds and Stamps are a solid financial investment and your patriotic duty.

Mr. Perkins thanks you for your purchase, and you thank him for his service. War or no war, you know Perkins’ Drugs will always be there for you.

Resources

My main source was this excellent, comprehensive, and well-researched book: Worthen, Dennis B. Pharmacy in World War II. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 2004.

http://www.lloydlibrary.org (Website of the Lloyd Library and Museum, which has many articles and resources on the history of pharmacy).

Today in World War II History—May 10, 1941

Members of the London Fire Brigade on Queen Victoria Street on the night of 10-11 May 1941, the last major raid in London’s Blitz (Imperial War Museum: HU 1129)

Members of the London Fire Brigade on Queen Victoria Street on the night of 10-11 May 1941, the last major raid in London’s Blitz (Imperial War Museum: HU 1129)

80 Years Ago—May 10, 1941: Last major Luftwaffe attack on London—700 acres burnt; Tower of London, House of Commons, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey & British Museum are hit.

Germany’s Deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess, flies a Messerschmitt 110 fighter plane to Prestwick, Scotland, in a misguided attempt to broker peace with Britain.

“Strike of the 100,000” begins in Belgium at Cockerill Steel Works; ends without any arrests on May 18 when Germans raise wages 8%.

Wreckage of Rudolf Hess’s Messerschmitt 110, Bonnyton Moor, Scotland, 10 May 1941 (Imperial War Museum)

Wreckage of Rudolf Hess’s Messerschmitt 110, Bonnyton Moor, Scotland, 10 May 1941 (Imperial War Museum)

Today in World War II History—May 9, 1941

U-110 being captured by HMS Bulldog, 9 May 1941 (Royal Navy photo)

U-110 being captured by HMS Bulldog, 9 May 1941 (Royal Navy photo)

80 Years Ago—May 9, 1941: British destroyers Bulldog and Broadway and British corvette Aubretia seize German U-boat U-110 with Navy Enigma machine, rotors, handbook, and position codes; U-110 sinks under tow the next day.

Vichy France and Thailand sign peace treaty in Tokyo, officially ending Franco-Thai War, with French ceding some territory in Laos and Cambodia.

Billie Holliday records hit song “God Bless the Child.”

Today in World War II History—May 8, 1941

German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin in the Indian Ocean, 1941 (Australian War Memorial: P02018.032)

German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin in the Indian Ocean, 1941 (Australian War Memorial: P02018.032)

80 Years Ago—May 8, 1941: In the Indian Ocean, cruiser HMS Cornwall sinks German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin after she sank 28 ships in a year (341 crew & 214 POWs are killed).

Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that chewing tobacco causes oral cancer.

Today in World War II History—May 7, 1941

Destroyer HMS Somali, 29 July 1939 (Imperial War Museum: FL 19179)

Destroyer HMS Somali, 29 July 1939 (Imperial War Museum: FL 19179)

80 Years Ago—May 7, 1941: Off Iceland, destroyer HMS Somali captures German weather ship München and her Enigma code books.

First B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers arrive in Britain for use by the RAF.

Today in World War II History—May 6, 1941

"Bob Hope Entertaining Troops Somewhere in England" by Floyd Davis, 1942 (US Army Center of Military History)

“Bob Hope Entertaining Troops Somewhere in England” by Floyd Davis, 1942 (US Army Center of Military History)

80 Years Ago—May 6, 1941: Bob Hope performs at March Army Air Field, Riverside, CA, his first USO show for troops.

Experimental flight of Republic XP-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane, Long Island, NY.

Igor Sikorsky flies the first official rotor helicopter flight, of a Vought-Sikorsky in Stratford, CT; flight lasts over one hour.

Poster for Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes, World War II

Poster for Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes, World War II

Igor Sikorsky in the last version of the VS-300, at the end of 1941 (US government photo)

Igor Sikorsky in the last version of the VS-300, at the end of 1941 (US government photo)

Today in World War II History—May 5, 1941

“Haile Selassie – Emperor, Warrior” by Charles Henry Alston for US Office of War Information, 1943 (US National Archives: 535684)

“Haile Selassie – Emperor, Warrior” by Charles Henry Alston for US Office of War Information, 1943 (US National Archives: 535684)

80 Years Ago—May 5, 1941: Emperor Haile Selassie returns to Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, 5 years to the day from fleeing during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

First SOE agent (British Special Operations Executive) parachutes into France—Georges Bégué lands in the Vichy zone to organize resistance.

Pulitzer Prize in literature is awarded to Robert Sherwood for There Shall Be No Night.

Britain begins cheese rationing: 1 oz per week; manual laborers receive 8 oz per week.

Today in World War II History—May 4, 1941

Panoramic view of Liverpool, showing bomb damage. The Liver Building can be seen to the right of center, and the River Mersey to the left. (Imperial War Museum: D 5984)

Panoramic view of Liverpool, showing bomb damage. The Liver Building can be seen to the right of center, and the River Mersey to the left. (Imperial War Museum: D 5984)

80 Years Ago—May 4, 1941: In Luftwaffe raid on Liverpool, England, bombers sink 32 ships and boats.

Pharmacy in World War II: The Pharmacist

Pharmacy in World War II - The Pharmacist

As a former pharmacist, I’ve found the history of pharmacy in World War II fascinating. So fascinating that I’ve written two novels featuring pharmacists. In On Distant Shores, pharmacist John Hutchinson serves in a pharmacy in an Army evacuation hospital in Italy, and in Anchor in the Storm, Lillian Avery works as a pharmacist in a drugstore in Boston during World War II.

Much about my profession has changed over the decades, but some things have not—the personal concern for patients, the difficult balance between health care and business, and the struggle to gain respect in the physician-dominated health-care world. Today I’ll discuss the role of the pharmacist in the 1940s, next we’ll visit the local drugstore and see how its role changed during the war, and then I’ll review the role of pharmacy in the US military.

The Profession of Pharmacy in the 1940s

Pharmacopeia of the United States, Twelfth Edition, 1 November 1942 (Sarah Sundin collection)

Pharmacopeia of the United States, Twelfth Edition, 1 November 1942 (Sarah Sundin collection)

The 1940 US census counted over 82,000 pharmacists. The majority worked in retail pharmacy, with only 3000 working in hospitals. In fact, less than half of hospitals had a pharmacist on staff.

A cornerstone of pharmacy had always been compounding, the practice of mixing a prescription from raw ingredients. Pharmacists made creams, ointments, elixirs, suspensions, capsules, tablets, suppositories, and powder papers. Every pharmacist owned a copy of the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) guide—the 11th Edition (1937) or 12th Edition (1942), which provided chemical data on each substance. By the 1940s, pharmacists did less compounding—about 70 percent of prescriptions were filled with manufactured dosage forms.

In the 1940s, the pharmacist was a vital member of the community. Often viewed as more accessible than physicians, pharmacists were relied upon for health information and the treatment of minor ailments.

Education and Licensing

Pharmacy memorabilia, including 1942 edition of the United States Pharmacopoeia (Sarah Sundin collection)

Pharmacy memorabilia, including 1942 edition of the United States Pharmacopoeia (Sarah Sundin collection)

The first four-year Bachelor’s of Science degree in pharmacy was offered by the Ohio State University in 1925. The four-year program became mandatory with the incoming class of 1932. Therefore, during World War II, some pharmacists did not have college degrees, but the younger ones did.

In 1942, sixty-eight colleges of pharmacy operated in the United States. In addition to general education requirements, pharmacy students studied pharmacy, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacognosy (deriving pharmaceuticals from raw substances, such as plants), pharmacology (the effect of a drug on the body), and business.

Each state had its own licensing requirements and examinations, and there was no reciprocity between states. For example, a pharmacist licensed in California had to take a new set of examinations if he moved to Michigan.

During the war, most colleges of pharmacy adopted a year-round, three-year program during the war, to alleviate the manpower shortage and to increase the chance that a student would finish his degree before being drafted.

Manpower Shortage

Japanese-Americans Dr. K. H. Taria and pharmacist Tom Arase at work, Jerome War Relocation Center, Arkansas, 17 Nov 1942 (US National Archives: ARC 538864)

Japanese-Americans Dr. K. H. Taria and pharmacist Tom Arase at work, Jerome War Relocation Center, Arkansas, 17 Nov 1942 (US National Archives: ARC 538864)

In a nation of 130 million, over 11 million would serve in the armed forces during the course of the war. This produced a manpower shortage on the home front, and pharmacy was not immune. As a class, pharmacists were not exempt from the draft, but local draft boards could declare individuals as “necessary men” if their enlistment would negatively affect the health of the community.

During World War II between 10,000-14,000 pharmacists served in the military. In addition, the forcible internment of Japanese-American pharmacists made the situation even more acute on the West Coast. Since most drugstores were staffed by only one to two druggists, when a man enlisted the whole store was affected. Due to this, approximately 15 percent of drugstores closed during the war.

Women in Pharmacy

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII

In the 1940 census, only 4 percent of pharmacists were female. But during the war, more opportunities opened for women as colleges and employers actively recruited them. Ads of the time promoted a pharmacy education as being of “special value to the homemaker” with its emphasis on safeguarding health.

Although enrollment in pharmacy schools plummeted during World War II, from 8410 in the 1940-41 school year to 3349 in 1944-45, enrollment of women rose from 356 in 1940-41 (4%) to 1599 in 1944-45 (48%).

Although the female pharmacist found more opportunities, she still faced prejudice. Many stores still refused to hire women, even with the severe shortage. Also, some patients were reluctant to trust the new “girl druggists,” although most adapted to seeing a feminine face behind the prescription counter—same as they adapted to Rosie the Riveter and Wendy the Welder.

Effects of the War

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII

Due to store closures, the average store filled 13 percent more prescriptions than before the war. This increase in workload was balanced by depletion of other goods due to rationing and shortages. In addition, citizens were encouraged to take better care of their health so they could contribute to the war effort, which led to an increase in physician visits. Overworked physicians dispensed fewer drugs from their offices and sent more patients to pharmacies. As a result, the average drugstore enjoyed an 80 percent increase in sales during the war.

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII

Pharmacists dealt with shortages of ingredients and medications. A serious shortage of quinine, used to treat malaria, led the military to collect the majority of the nation’s quinine stock. Also, shortages of alcohol, sugar, and glycerin taxed the ability of pharmacists to compound. Each pharmacy received a ration of ten pounds of sugar a week for compounding purposes.

Resources

My main source was this excellent, comprehensive, and well-researched book: Worthen, Dennis B. Pharmacy in World War II. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 2004.

http://www.lloydlibrary.org (Website of the Lloyd Library and Museum, which has many articles and resources on the history of pharmacy).

United States Pharmacopoeial Convention. The Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America, Twelfth Edition. Easton PA: Mack Printing Company, 1 November 1942.

Today in World War II History—May 3, 1941

Movie poster for Meet John Doe, 1941 (public domain via Wikipedia)

Movie poster for Meet John Doe, 1941 (public domain via Wikipedia)

80 Years Ago—May 3, 1941: Movie premiere of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe, starring Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck.

Project Roger is established at Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, PA, to install and test airborne radar.