Look closely enough at just about anything, and you will find that there is a rich hidden world lying just beneath the surface. Here is where the quirks live, the little unusual facts that add a little spice to everyday life. The only exception? Reality TV. That actually is as bad as it looks at first. Worse, if anything. But it is absolutely true of pharmacy. You might wander down the street or navigate to this website and think of it as nothing more than a discounted chemist. My friend, pharmacy is a weird world indeed. Come with me now on a journey under the surface, and you will see just makes the world of pharmacy so unusual.
Pharmacists invented pretty much every dark sugary soft drink imaginable.
- Coca-Cola – It’s a barmy May morning in Atlanta, Georgia, and pharmacist James Pemberton has just invented the syrup for Coke. He mixes it into a liquid and sold it in Jacob’s Pharmacy for just 5c a glass. The general consensus was that it was ‘excellent’. It was initially designed to be a replacement for the morphine which Pemberton had come to rely on to soothe an injury picked up in the Civil War. He also claimed that it had medicinable properties and could alleviate indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, and impotence. Needless to say, it didn’t have any health benefits, and instead caused quite a number of different illnesses over the years.
- Dr. Pepper – In 1885, a pharmacist in Texas named Charles Alderton had a dream. He loved the way soda fountains spread a pleasant aroma around his pharmacy, and wanted to mix a drink that tasted as good as the shop smelled. I find this a little strange; I like the ‘new car’ smell, but I don’t necessarily want that in a drink. Anyway, enough people agreed with Alderton and Dr Pepper became a hit. Rumour has it that putting ‘Dr’ in the name was a clever marketing ploy to make it appear more healthy than it actually was. It is actually very hard to know exactly what you are drinking for two reasons. First, it doesn’t taste like anything recognisable. Secondly, the recipe is a trade secret, reportedly kept in two halves in two separate bank vaults.
- Pepsi – Pharmacists seem to have a monopoly on the dark fizzy liquids, don’t they? In 1893, Caleb Bradhman made the first batch and sold it in his pharmacy under the unmarketable moniker ‘Brad’s Drink’. Like Coke and Dr Pepper, it was initially purported to have health benefits for things like indigestion and depression. And like Coke and Dr Pepper, it does no such thing.
Astonishingly, they didn’t just invent soft drinks.
- Penicillin – September 1928, and pharmacist Alexander Fleming makes a discovery which saves millions of lives. He accidentally leaves a petri dish uncovered, and mould has spread across the dish. He notices that the bacteria near this mould has begun to die, and realises that this mould – of the penicillin genus – can be used to treat all kinds of infections. Up until this point, infections and viruses were often a death sentence. “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928,” he said later, “I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” Here’s to you, Sir Alexander!
- Margarine – Napoleon III set out a challenge to all of the scientists of France to develop a substitute for butter, which was a rarity for the commoner. A pharmacist answered that challenge. Hippolyte Mèges-Mouries developed the first iteration of margarine, before selling it to a German pharmacist named Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz who built the first factory and produced it on a mass scale. Contrary to the urban myth, it was never coloured black. It was actually white, which made people think of lard. They added the yellow dye to make it resemble butter as closely as possible.
- Mascara – … and people with short eyelashes rejoiced everywhere! In the early 1990s, a young pharmacist named Terry Williams felt profound pity for his sister Mabel who had just been jilted by a lover. He combined charcoal and vaseline and the rest is history. Interestingly, Mabel met her future husband while wearing this mascara, and Terry named it in her honour as a wedding present: Maybelline (combining Mabel and vaseline).
Some famous historical figures were pharmacists and you had no idea:
- Agatha Christie – The famous crime writer spent time working as a pharmacist before turning to writing. Once you know, you can see it. Her first novel – introducing the iconic Hercule Poiroit – revolved around a woman who had been killed from strychnine poisoning. By the end of her career, there were about 30 poison related deaths for her detectives to solve. Rumour has it that Christie left the pharmacy game because she was so anxious that she might accidentally mix up vials and become one of the villains she would go on to write about.
- Ben Franklin – Just the guy who harnessed electricity so that you have lights, fridges, computers. I am proud to tell you that he was in fact a pharmacist. His famous experiment with the kite and the key in a lightning storm made giant leaps in developing the modern world. Interestingly, he is also responsible for the saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Store that one up for your next pub trivia.
- Isaac Newton – Speaking of apples, the man who developed our entire understanding of how gravity works was an apothecary. When a Red Delicious cracked Newton on the head, he had one of the most famous ‘a-ha!’ moments of all time and revolutionised the laws of physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and all those fun Newtonian laws you vaguely remember from high school.
It’s inspiring, if you think about it. We could be so much more than a discounted chemist. We could be the future inventor of something which changes the world! Discounted chemist today, world famous inventor tomorrow!
We can only dream.