This post comes from Jordan Jedry, Student Archives Assistant in the Historical Collections & Archives.
Some of today’s biggest pharmaceutical leaders trace their history to single small laboratories or workshops during the 19th century. Others have come and gone through a convoluted series of mergers, acquisitions, and restructurings. Even in the times before pharmaceutical production ever became a formal “industry,” the contributions and lives of notable individuals in medical and pharmacological history have long been remembered as irrefutably changing the landscape of medicine and pharmacy forever.
When we think of pharmaceutical companies, we may default to present-day major players in pharmaceutical production, such as Pfizer or Abbott. But the histories of medicine and pharmacology go back hundreds—if not thousands—of years prior to the existence of these pharmaceutical monoliths. While there have been countless debates about pharmaceutical companies in recent years, these companies and their products have undeniably contributed to countless improvements to medicine and pharmacology over time.
Mass-production of pharmaceutical products greatly increased in the 20th century as a direct result of an unprecedented demand from the two World Wars. Because of this, contemporary pharmaceutical companies were faced with the dilemma of setting themselves apart from their competitors while also reaching as broad of an audience as possible through concentrated mass-marketing efforts. But how could this be achieved in a reasonable and publicly-appealing way, short of developing more breakthrough pharmaceutical products?
Enter Thom, Hiller, and Netter, among other notable artists and illustrators. Their purpose? To reach a broader audience of doctors, pharmacists, and patients through impressive displays of artistic mastery and educational opportunity.
The recently processed Pharmaceutical Promotions collection represents nearly fifty years of educational graphic prints, magazine advertisement clippings, and reproductions of promotional portrait series that evidence the commissions made by these pharmaceutical organizations, and their subsequent proliferation to hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies in mid-20th century targeted marketing efforts. This was accomplished primarily through the commemoration of significant historical accomplishments in the medical and pharmaceutical disciplines in art, the glamorization of pharmaceutical product benefits in contemporary magazine advertisements, and the depiction of significant figures and relevant biographical information about them in the medical and pharmaceutical fields in contemporary publications, all of which are represented in some form in this collection.
The Pharmaceutical Promotions collection houses several promotional prints, advertisements, and visual materials from multiple pharmaceutical companies including: Ethicon, Inc.; Abbott Laboratories; Davis and Geck, Inc.; Burroughs Wellcome and Company; Parke, Davis and Company; Armour Laboratories; CIBA; Upjohn; and Wyeth, Inc., produced and distributed on a massive scale over the course of nearly fifty years. From Thom’s A History of Medicine in Pictures and A History of Pharmacy in Pictures to Hiller’s stunning Sutures in Ancient Surgery photograph series, some of these works have gone on to be displayed at the Art Institute in Chicago and Les Invalides in Paris, among other world-renowned museums and galleries.
Many of the works represented in this collection combine impressive visuals with an in-depth history of a significant figure’s life, the development of notable pharmacological products or medical technique, and depictions of different locales and practitioners of medicine and pharmacy across history. This collection is a valuable resource not only for those who wish to learn more about pharmaceutical marketing efforts, but to those who are generally interested to learn more about the broader histories of medicine and pharmacy in a uniquely visual way.