80 Years of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy

Editor’s note: On January 1, 2021, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP) joined the Alcohol and Drugs History Society as a co-sponsor of Points. On the occasion of AIHP’s 80th birthday on Friday, January 22, 2021, we would like to take the opportunity to introduce the past and the present of AIHP to the readers of Points. Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Higby, the former longtime AIHP Executive Director. In his current roles as the AIHP Fischelis Scholar and as a Senior Curator at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, Dr. Higby continues to manage and maintain the historical collections at AIHP and the UW School of Pharmacy in his semi-retirement. Happy Birthday, AIHP!

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On January 22, 1941, six men gathered in a pharmacognosy laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founded the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Its explicit purpose was to serve as a center for pharmaco-historical research and information. Its implicit purpose was to provide an academic home for scholar-pharmacist Dr. George Urdang, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Urdang had fled Berlin in 1938, making his way to New York, where he obtained an American pharmacy degree from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy at age 57.

Soon afterward, in the summer of 1939, Wisconsin pharmacy professor Edward Kremers recruited Urdang to Madison to help complete a comprehensive history of pharmacy textbook based on materials Kremers had been collecting for decades. After the publication of Kremers and Urdang’s History of Pharmacy by Lippincott in 1940, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy was established with Urdang as its first Director.

Later in 1941, an anonymous dispatch—no doubt written by Urdang—announced the establishment of the new historical society in Madison, Wisconsin, and outlined the purposes of this “center for all pharmaco-historical work”:

  1. To aid in the collection, selection, arrangement, and exhibition of pharmaceutico-historical material and—as far as possible—to catalogue and to inventory this material;
  2. To give the research worker in the field of historical pharmacy the possibility to discuss his projects, to get advice on literature, and to publish the manuscripts concerned;
  3. To furnish information and means for historical instruction at the Colleges of Pharmacy;
  4. To furnish material for popular pharmaceutico-historical information directly to the general public (journals, newspapers, etc.), or to individual pharmacists for use in their social or professional relations;
  5. To cooperate with the historians of the related sciences and professions, especially of medicine, in order to promote the mutual scientific, professional, and social understanding and progress derived from such a cooperation.
George Urdang and students in 1950
In addition to serving as AIHP’s Director, George Urdang (second from right) was hired as a Professor by the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy in 1947. He soon established the first History of Pharmacy graduate program in the United States, and he is seen here with his first cohort of graduate students, including future AIHP Executive Director Glenn Sonnedecker (left). Image courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

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