“Ethical Displays”: AIHP’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection & the History of Public Health Information

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond describes the Institute’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection.

“Records indicate that over 90 MILLION AMERICANS still need to be vaccinated,” blares the 26-inch by 42-inch professionally printed cardboard poster. “Epidemics start in neighborhoods where there are large concentrations of unvaccinated people,” the text screams. This disease “has not been controlled,” the poster alarmingly concludes, “because the public has been lax about being inoculated.”

These messages appear not in a current COVID-19 pandemic public service announcement. Instead, this poster was part of a three-piece educational pharmacy window display from sixty years ago titled, “1960 Polio Report from your Pharmacist.” The poster noted that “infants and children under five are victims” and sought to educate the public about the dangerous and, then still circulating, poliovirus and the available Salk vaccine.

This poster set is one of about 40 public health education pharmacy window display sets in the Frank Pinchak Poster Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Pinchak, a registered pharmacist from Paterson, New Jersey, produced and marketed such educational displays from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Pinchak Poster Polio Report 1960
Section of “1960 Polio Report From Your Pharmacist” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP. Please click on any photo in this post to see a larger image.

This important and unique ephemera collection documents the circulation of local public health information in the post-war era. The displays discuss subjects ranging from vaccinations to health technologies and from drug safety to narcotics. The many still-relevant topics covered by the posters can help us better understand the long historical roots of lively contemporary debates and controversies about health, drugs, medicines, and pharmaceuticals.

Pinchak 1960 Polio Report Set
Complete “1960 Polio Report from Your Pharmacist” window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP.

The Pinchak poster sets have rarely been seen since they decorated pharmacy windows decades ago. AIHP is currently in the process of digitizing these one-of-a-kind posters and hopes to soon make them available at the AIHP Digital Library so that researchers have easier access to these valuable resources.

Born in 1922, Frank Pinchak was the son of a pharmacist, and he graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in 1943. Subsequently, while working at his family’s drugstore in Paterson, he took classes at New York University, City College of New York, and the New School where he studied psychology, advertising, and public relations.

In 1954, Pinchak founded the company Professional Advancement Plan to market his educational pharmacy window displays. Each poster set sold for $6 and contained three posters—one 26-inch by 42-inch main poster and two accompanying 14-inch by 26-inch side posters. Participating pharmacies could expect a new display to arrive every two months.

Pinchak Posters 1955
Frank Pinchak (back row, center) with a selection of his posters at the Passaic County Pharmaceutical Association in 1955. Image courtesy of AIHP Drug Topics Collection.

Pinchak described his poster sets as “ethical displays” that presented neutral scientifically-based information to consumers. He contrasted them to ready-made commercial displays that promoted and advertised specific brands and products. He hoped his “ethical displays” would become a “symbol of modern pharmacy.” He further explained in advertisements:

“The show-globe of yesteryear lighted the way to the pharmacy… today’s patrons are looking to the pharmacy which continually features a newer, educational symbol… the ethical window display” [1].

He eventually developed about 40 different displays, and they proved to be popular. At the peak of his business, Pinchak sold his posters to about 1,000 pharmacies in 33 states. One satisfied customer from New York City wrote:

“Your window displays are an invaluable aid in bringing to the public the professional side of our pharmacies. The most progressive aid to our profession I have yet seen” [2].

One of the earliest and most popular posters was a bright full-color display about opium. “In the right hand,” the display announced, opium was “one of the greatest contributions to medicine!” But, “in the wrong hand,” it would be “the beginning of the end!” Fittingly, for educational displays targeted towards registered pharmacists, one poster emphasized that “Your Pharmacist is the legal custodian of all drugs and medicines in the United States.”

Pinchak Poster Opium
“Opium” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP.

Drug regulation and the proper use of drugs and medicines were frequent themes. One poster set from 1964 sought to educate consumers about the “Treatment of the Narcotic Addict.” Relying on the disease-model of addiction, the poster claimed that “most narcotic addicts are sick persons who need medical and special assistance, whether they are involved in criminal activities or not.” The poster went on to detail medical treatment options—including how to help “the addict… understand why he uses drugs and how he can live without them”—and rehabilitation strategies.

Pinchak Poster Narcotics Addict
1964 “The Treatment of the Narcotic Addict” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, these displays from the 1950s and 1960s provided information from a decidedly white, middle-class, and male perspective. Several posters about drugs from South America, Africa, and Asia used stereotypical and, sometimes, demeaning representations of non-white people to tell their stories. Shortcomings and all, though, the posters are a treasure trove of information documenting mainstream depictions and perceptions of drugs, medicines, pharmaceuticals, and public health in post-World War Two America.

Then as now, pharmacists could play an important role in public health campaigns. Five years before the “1960 Polio Report from Your Pharmacist” poster set, Frank Pinchak created an informative and educational display in which “Your Pharmacist Explains Immunity.” Distributed in 1955, just as polio vaccinations were becoming widely available in the United States, the posters provided simple and easy-to-understand descriptions of the science behind immunity and vaccinations.

The main poster emphasized that “the GOAL of IMMUNIZING PROGRAMS is to have the ANTIBODIES already present BEFORE the disease strikes.” With the United States currently struggling to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, perhaps it’s time to press this simple 1955 public health announcement back into service.

Pinchak PosterImmunity
1955 “Your Pharmacist Explains Immunity” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP.

References

[1] Professional Advancement Plan advertising flier, c. 1959. AIHP Frank Pinchak Poster Collection.

[2] Professional Advancement Plan advertising flier, c. 1959. AIHP Frank Pinchak Poster Collection.

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