Tag Archive | Pharmaceutical

Object: Slingshot

2014_7_3 (2)

German American
ca. 1896
Materials: Wood

Like most boys his age Wilhelm Steubing owned a slingshot. Willie, as he was known to his family and friends was very proud of this slingshot. He carried it with him everywhere and even had it with him when he died.

Wilhelm Steubing was born in 1885 on a little farm northwest of Bexar County. His parents were German born immigrants who arrived in the US in the early 1850s, passing through what was then Indianola. He was the oldest child of Sylvester and Scholastica Steubing . Unfortunately, Willie did not make it to adulthood. While hunting birds with his slingshot one day, young Willie was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the bite would take his life.

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake Image via http://www.houstonzoo.org

Young Willie’s untimely death is a testament to the dangers that the early settlers of Bexar County faced on a daily basis. Texas is home to nine different kind of rattlesnakes. The snakes are categorized into two groups; one of them belonging to the genus Sistrurus and the other belonging to the genus Crotalus. For more information on rattlesnakes found in Texas, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

At the time of Willie’s death, snake bites usually resulted in death.  This was because science had yet to develop a working anti-venom. Snake anti-venom would not be introduced until the 1890s. The creation of anti-venom came as a result of a flood in Vietnam. The flood pushed monocle cobras into the village and more than 30 people were bitten. Out of the 30 people who were bitten, 4 of them died as a result of the bites. A man by the name of Albert Calmette was present during the flood and decided something needed to be done in order to combat snake bites.  Calmette used a technique similar to vaccination, which was also new at the time. Calmette caught snakes and “milked” them, he then injected the venom into horses which in turn created antibodies in their blood. He then drew the blood from the horses and created a serum that could be used on humans.

Albert Calmette

Albert Calmette, image via Wikimedia Commons

Today all anti-venom is essentially created in the same way. Snakes must be healthy and are kept in quarantine, the venom is milked from the snake numerous times to get a full vial. The venom is transported and injected into animals that are able to create antibodies. Due to a large amount of people being allergic to horse based anti-venom, goats and sheep are also used. When making anti-venom a veterinarian is usually present to make sure no harm comes to the animal. The total process takes about 8 to 10 weeks. The anti-venom then has to be reviewed and deemed safe to use by the FDA.

Deadly snakes bites were not the only perils settlers faced, diseases like smallpox, cholera and yellow fever were also reasons to panic. With most of the settlers like the Steubings living on small isolated farms, often miles from town or other settlers, they were also miles from medical help. The self-reliance of the settlers played a key factor in the success of Bexar County. [Tanner Norwood edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Bergmann, Christian Friedrich, and Ruth I. Cape. 2014. New World View: Letters from a German Immigrant Family in Texas (1854-1885). New York: Lang.

Biesele, Rudolph Leopold, and James H. Sutton Jr. and Sylvia Leal Carvajal Collection. 1930. The History of the German Settlements in Texas: 1831-1861. Austin, Tex.: Press of Von Boeckmann-Jones Co.

Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G. 1966. German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.


Object Blog: Apothecary Box

I-0369r (1)

Box, Apothecary
1914 -1960
Material: Paper and ink

S.B. Penick & Company Logo Image via: antiquecannabisbook.com

S.B. Penick & Company Logo
Image via: antiquecannabisbook.com

The history behind the S.B. Penick & Company, that produced this apothecary box of Elm Bark Powder, is a perfect example of the innovative use of resources produced by the environment of the United States. Slippery Elm Bark was used to make tea from to sooth a sore mouth or other common internal ailments. Slippery Elm Bark gets its name for the inner layer of the tree bark being so slippery. This tree can be found in parts of the Northeast, along the east coast and even into parts of central Texas. S.B Penick came out of modest beginnings collecting and gathering botanicals for herbal remedies from the woods and fields of his Southeastern home. Long before professional doctors, hospitals and drug stores in the United States remedies were made from resources found in nature and administered by a family member, local medicine man or an appointed town physician. Peddlers known as ‘herb doctors’ would sell plants and herbs to settlements to cure everything from internal ailments to common cuts and bruises.

Image via: uptreeid.com

Image via: uptreeid.com

S.B Penick was more of an ‘herb doctor’ until World War I when his skills at producing remedies from plants were needed more than ever. Thus, S.B Penick & Company was founded. S.B. Penick used the plants supplied by his environment to produce botanical pharmaceuticals, medicine made from plants. This company would grow to be one of the largest botanical pharmaceutical producing companies by the 1960s. Unfortunately for the S.B Penick Company, botanical pharmaceuticals had been on a steady decline over the years after the Food and Drug Act was established in 1906, putting into question herbal remedies. It took time for this act to spread to the masses but it did so through trained doctors questioning the effectiveness of the herbal remedies.

With a declining market for their products, the S.B. Penick & Company would go out of business along with much of the botanical pharmaceutical industry. The decline was not only because natural plant based medicines were not working but also they were just not as profitable as the newer chemical medicines. The company was split apart for assets with only Penick Pharmaceuticals remaining and being bought in 1988. This portion of the company survived because it kept working and changing with the times, focusing on inorganic medicines that were being used and purchased more by hospitals and doctor’s offices. Further hardships would fall upon the company when they had to file for bankruptcy in 1994 but the Penick name and the use of plants and other natural resources, like Slippery Elm Bark, continues to be used in the United States to this day.

It seems remarkable that such a small box of an all-natural medical remedy could tell such a big story, but it’s the story behind these seemingly simple items that can stir our memories and ignite our imaginations. This paper and ink box of Elmwood bark beckons us to consider our earliest days of exploring our environment’s resources. Challenge yourselves to imagine the possibilities in the simplest things, you’d be surprised what you may learn. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Keezer, William S. “Botanical Sources of Early Medicines.” Bios. 34, No. 4 (Dec., 1963) , pp. 185-191.

Kremers, Edward, James Harvey Young, and George Urdang. History of Pharmacy: A Guide and a Survey. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1940.

Stobart, Anne, and Susan Francia. Critical Approaches to the History of Western Herbal Medicine: From Classical Antiquity to the Early Modern Period. 2014.

Taylor, David. “Herbal Medicine at a Crossroads.” Environmental Health Perspectives.  104, No. 9 (Sep., 1996) , pp. 924-928.

Van der Zee, Barbara. Green Pharmacy: A History of Herbal Medicine. New York: Viking Press, 1982

Object: Ledger Book

I-0387a scan

Ledger Book
German American
Date: 1881
Materials: Leather, paper

A ledger is the official book of accounts used by a business, typically noting money transactions in the form of debits and credits. This large ledger belonged to Adolph Dreiss, owner of the Dreiss Drug Store in San Antonio. The spine of the ledger has “Ledger” and “A. Dreiss” printed on it. The first few pages of the book have the letters of the alphabet written on them. The following pages are numbered 1 through 460. Many of the pages have entries, although some remain blank.


Map via: User:52 Pickup, Wikipedia.org

Adolf Dreiss was a well-known drug merchant of San Antonio. He was born in Stuttgart, the capital of Württemberg, Germany in January of 1843. In 1849, at the age of seven, Dreiss emigrated from Germany to New Braunfels, Texas with his family. Dreiss was the son of Albert and Josephine Dreiss. His father was the county clerk of New Braunfels’, Comal County between 1857 and 1867 . In addition to being the county clerk, Albert Dreiss also owned farmland in Comal County. As a young adult, Adolf Dreiss worked as a field hand on his father’s farm for three years.

Dreiss was able to secure a position as a clerk in a New Braunfels drug store. In 1857, after eighteen months of employment at the New Braunfels drug store, Dreiss moved to San Antonio, Texas. He worked in San Antonio as a clerk at the drug store of A. Nette until the beginning of the civil war. Dreiss joined the Confederate Army as a private in the First Texas Cavalry. During the war, Dreiss served as a trooper and a hospital steward. At the close of the war, Dreiss returned to San Antonio. He went back to work as a drug store clerk at A. Nette’s drug store for one more year and then in 1866, established a drug business of his own.

The Dreiss Drug Store, located on Alamo Plaza, was a highly successful business and was one of the largest retail drug stores in Texas in the 19th century. In 1888, Dreiss, along with Dr. T. C. Thompson and Mr. Theodore Olmstede, opened a large and prosperous wholesale drug business. American manufactures supplied most of the drugs in Dreiss’ drug stores but he also imported drugs from Germany. Dreiss regularly advertised his business in the San Antonio Express and the San Antonio Daily Light newspapers. In 1892, Dreiss merged his wholesale drug store with the wholesale firm of F. Kalteyer & Son, creating the San Antonio Drug Company that operated for over a century.  The San Antonio Drug Company was known for having high commercial standards.

Dreiss continued his retail and wholesale drug businesses until his death in 1908. Newspaper articles at the time of his death remembered Dreiss as a patriotic, loyal and distinguished citizen as well as one of the most enterprising citizens of San Antonio. Hermann Dreiss, son of Adolph, took over the Dreiss Drug Store; Hermann operated the retail drug store until his retirement, when he sold the business to the Sommers Drug Company of San Antonio. [Lauren Thompson, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video discusses a saber from the Confederate Army, like those that would have been used by members of Adolph Dreiss’ unit in the Civil War, now in the collection of the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

Additional Resources:

Daniell, Lewis E. 1892 Personnel of the Texas State Government. Texas: Maverick Print House.

Van Winkle, Irene. Dreiss Family Saga Filled with Close Calls, Hard Work. West Kerr Current.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. German Texans. Texas: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.

Whitebread, Charles. 1936 An Interesting Old Medical Chest. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 25(11):1005.

Object: Apothecary Bottle


Apothecary Bottle of Glyco Thymoline
Kress & Owen Company
New Jersey
Date: 1852-1986
Materials: Glass, metal, Glyco Thymoline

This is a bottle containing a mixture of Glyco-Thymoline manufactured by Kress & Owen Company. Glyco-Thymoline can still be purchased from Kress & Owen Company today as a mouthwash and an agent against mucosity, gingivitis, and a sore throat. Kress & Owen also have marketed similar types of Glyco-Thymoline products as treatments for cuts, burns, and skin irritations, such as sunburn or poison ivy. This particular bottle was originally from the collection of Eastwood Pharmacy in San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio Drug Company Building

Photo via: en.wikipedia.org

The pharmacy has been associated with Texas since the middle of the 16th century when Europeans began to practice pharmacy and medicine in the Americas and Texas. Some of the medications used were associated with Native American healing traditions and practices. Early practitioners in Texas dealt with difficult conditions due to a lack of supplies and sanitation. Many practitioners had to rely on local vegetation and knowledge in order to construct a supply of medicine. Some were able to amass large enough quantities needed to open the first drugstores, and thus they were the pioneers of drug manufacture and sales in Texas. During the middle of the nineteenth century many druggists in Texas acted as manufacturers, wholesalers, prescribers, and retailers of medicines. Frederick J. Kalteyer opened up one of the earliest retail drugstores in San Antonio in 1854 which became known as the San Antonio Drug Company. The San Antonio Drug Company stayed in operation for more than a century.

In 1879 the Texas Pharmaceutical Association formed in Dallas in order to professionally organize the pharmacists in Texas and to standardize the profession. The Texas Pharmaceutical Association also allowed for pharmacists to receive their education locally rather than abroad in Europe. Later, the Texas Pharmaceutical Association became an integral part in the formation of a chair of pharmacy at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The first pharmacy chair was James Kennedy from San Antonio, Texas. Both the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Texas Pharmaceutical Association, now known as the Texas Pharmacy Association, are important players in the pharmaceutical and public health care system in Texas today. [Catherine Sword, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Esther Jane Wood Hall, “PHARMACY,” Handbook of Texas Online 

Kress & Owen Co., Inc. The Official Site of Glyco-Thymoline. 2008.

Texas Pharmacy Association. Texas Pharmacy Association. 2010.

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