They Sold Drugs

Famous People Who Were Once Pharmacists

The first professional pharmacies are said to have been in Baghdad in the 13th century. As a practice distinct from that of medicine and healing, modern pharmacies developed in the 18th century, and by the 20th century had expanded to include general merchandise and even food counters. Below we list several famous people who at some point spent time behind the pharmacist’s counter.

Benjamin Franklin

Before he opened his printer’s shop in Philadelphia, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN — what didn’t that guy do? — was engaged to be a clerk for a mercantile store. For a short time he sold a variety of items, including herbs and medicines. Later, of course, Ben became famous for his many inventions and statemanship, and for dispensing healthful advice through his Poor Richard’s Almanac, including “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Dante Alighieri

Italy’s great poet DANTE joined a Florentine apothecary guild in 1295 or 1296. It’s doubtful he ever had to mix compounds or sell toothpaste, however. Dante probably joined the guild because in those days a guild membership was required in order to participate in city politics.

Isaac Newton

A good student from England’s Grantham Grammar School, young ISAAC NEWTON served as an apprentice in an apothecary shop in Woolsthorpe. He lived at the shop and for a short time was even engaged to the shop owner’s daughter. The job and the romance ended when Newton went off to Cambridge University and started his brilliant career in mathematics and physics. We can only wonder what kind of a druggist he would have been.

O. Henry

American short story writer O. HENRY (the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter), considered one of the finest in the game and very popular in his day, had an unusual career path. Before he became a writer in New York, Porter had had several odd jobs in Texas and had spent three years in prison for embezzlement. And before that he worked for his uncle as a licensed pharmacist in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Henrik Ibsen

The great Norwegian playwright HENRIK IBSEN joins the ranks of those who spent their teen years surrounded by drugs. In 1844, at the age of 16, he became an apprentice in the coastal town of Grimstad pharmacy. After his apprenticeship Ibsen worked as an assistant pharmacist, leaving in 1850 to study in Christiana (now Oslo).

Hubert Humphrey

Minnesota Democrat HUBERT H. HUMPHREY served as the Mayor of Minneapolis, a U. S. senator and the vice president of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson, a pillar of the party for his stand on civil rights and social reform. His long political career came after Humphrey had a brief career as a pharmacist in his dad’s drugstore. Forever a friend to pharmacists, Vice President Humphrey was named Pharmacist of the Year by the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1966 (Humphrey himself attended a college of pharmacy in Denver). Since 1978 the American Pharmaceutical Association has given the annual Hubert H. Humphrey Award to pharmacists who are also known for their public service.

Benedict Arnold

BENEDICT ARNOLD is one of the most infamous figures in United States history, a smart military tactician who fought for the colonists before he switched sides and fought for the British. Before the Revolutionary War, Arnold was the owner of his own apothecary shop in New Haven, Connecticut. As a teenager he learned the trade as an apprentice in a shop owned by his relatives Daniel and Joshua Lathrop — when he wasn’t running off to fight wars, that is. As a young man he toured Europe, then returned to Connecticut and opened his own shop, with his sister Hannah as his assistant. Once the Revolutionary War started, he apparently abandoned his apothecary business so he could go down in history as a traitor.

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