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1920s Drugstore Gallery Cart


This Gallery Cart gives visitors an understanding of the 1920s drugstore by providing the opportunity to touch and examine reproductions of artifacts displayed in that space. Labeling has been kept to a minimum within the drugstore to preserve the re-created “look and feel” of the period. Therefore, the docent will bear much of the responsibility for interpreting the role of the drugstore, both in a historical setting and as a key element in the process by which North Carolinians seek healing.


The observer will:

  1. understand that the drugstore was, and continues to be, a community resource for commercially and naturally produced remedies applicable to different types of domestic healing situations; and
  2. understand how the drugstore served the social and material needs of a community.

History of Pepsi-Cola and Soda Fountain Information

The Pepsi-Cola story begins with a drugstore in New Bern, North Carolina, and a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham. Bradham’s aim was to create a fountain drink that was both delicious and healthful in aiding digestion and boosting energy. It would be free of the impurities found in many bottled health tonics, andf it would contain none of the stronger narcotics often added to popular fountain drinks. 

Like most pharmacies in 1896, Bradham’s drugstore housed a soda fountain where the small-town clientele would meet to socialize. Bradham's establishment even featured a kind of primitive jukebox, which for a nickel would entertain the listener with the latest musical selections rendered by violin or piano or both.

It was at such convivial gatherings that Bradham would offer his latest concoction. Over time, one of his recipes became known as Brad’s Drink. A member of the press declared, “It has sparkle and just enough acidity to make it pleasant.” Soon its popularity exceeded the boundaries of New Bern.

The cellar of Bradham’s drugstore served as the original site of Pepsi-Cola syrup manufacturing. Electing to start his new business on a small, manageable scale, Bradham based his operation on familiar territory. Ingredients were hauled downstairs to cramped quarters, where they were mixed together and then cooked in a large kettle. The syrup was subsequently poured into one-gallon jugs and five-gallon kegs to be shipped to customers.

By 1902 the demand from surrounding drugstores had increased so dramatically that Bradham realized Pepsi-Cola was something special. On December 24, 1902, he filed incorporation papers with the state of North Carolina, indicating his plans for corporate branches in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.

And the rest is history!

(For additional information, visit

Origin of the 1920s Drugstore

The drugstore interior dates to the 1890s. The mahogany and poplar cabinets, mirrors, and marble counters originally graced the inside of the O. G. King Drugstore, which was located on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh. John Calvin Brantley purchased the business in 1910, changed its name to the J. C. Brantley Drug Store, and continued to operate the pharmacy and soda fountain downtown until 1947. That year Brantley relocated his business to Hillsborough Street, where he, and later his son, ran the store until it closed in 1988. The store’s interior was subsequently donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Although many of the store’s fixtures predate the interpreted period (1920s), they, along with the goods displayed, represent how an urban drugstore in an upper-middle-class section of town would have appeared.

The stainless steel soda fountain dates to the 1920s. Before being purchased by the museum from American Soda Fountain Inc. in Chicago, it was featured in several episodes of the TV series The Untouchables and was used as a prop in the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.

Drugstores in the early 1900s served three main purposes: they provided a gathering place—the soda fountain—for socializing and for the exchange of news; they satisfied the pharmaceutical needs of a community; and they sold a wide range of other products, referred to as “sundries,” “toiletries,” and “fancy foods.”

The neighborhood drug store is an important public institution, it is a great service station, a community center, a meeting place for young and old alike. It caters to the material needs of the families in its vicinity, it helps in their enjoyment of life and it offers aid and sympathy in their trials and sorrows. - The Druggists Circular, May 1923

African American Drugstores in North Carolina

In the 1920s African Americans owned about 5 percent of the state’s pharmacies. Most of these drugstores were located in cities. (White-owned drugstores generally would not serve African Americans at their soda fountains, although some did allow them to buy medicines and other products.) Few remain today because most of the neighborhoods that housed them underwent reconstruction during Urban Renewal programs in the 1960s and 1970s.

The following drugstores were among those owned and operated by African Americans:


YMI Building and Drugstore, established 1890s

The Young Men’s Institute, or YMI, was a community facility that served Asheville’s African American residents. In addition to the drugstore, the building contained a gymnasium, meeting rooms, and other shops. Commissioned by George Vanderbilt in 1892, the multilevel 18,000-square-foot Tudor-style structure was built by the several hundred African American craftsmen who helped construct Biltmore House.


Queen City Drug Company, established 1910s

  • Located at 422 East Second Street in Brooklyn, a predominantly African American section of Charlotte, also called the Second Ward.
  • One of the state’s first African American–owned pharmacy companies.
  • Dr. Manassa Pope, of Raleigh, aided in its establishment.
  • Dr. J. T. Williams was president of the business and a partner in Mecklenburg Investment Company (MIC), a well-known African American business in Charlotte. MIC funded hundreds of African American businesses.
  • Demolished in 1960s during the city’s Urban Renewal program.

Brooklyn Drug and Sundries, established 1910s

  • Located at 420 East Second Street in Brooklyn.
  • Situated next to the Queen City Drug Company and possibly managed by the same owners.
  • Demolished in 1960s during the city’s Urban Renewal program.

Yancey’s Drugstore, established 1922

  • Located at 237 South Brevard Street, on the corner of the MIC building, in Brooklyn.
  • Survived the city’s Urban Renewal program and remains standing today.


Garrett’s Biltmore Drugstore, established 1933

  • Located on Pettigrew Street in Mexico, a predominantly African American section of Durham.
  • Owned and managed by Dr. York Garrett, who also owned a drugstore in Tarboro. Garrett’s sister Mattie ran that store when he moved to Durham. His Tarboro store was destroyed in the 1960s Urban Renewal Program.
  • Another African American family originally owned the business, originally named Biltmore Drug Store. Garrett changed the name when he bought the store.
  • Destroyed during the city’s Urban Renewal program in the 1960s.

Garrett Parker Drugstore, established 1953

  • Located on Fayetteville Street in Hayti, a predominantly African American section of Durham.
  • Opened when Dr. York Garrett’s nephew Judson Garrett Parker received his pharmacy degree.
  • Destroyed during the city’s Urban Renewal program in the 1960s.

Drugstore owned by Dr. York Garrett, established 1960s

  • Located on Fayetteville Street
  • Opened after Garrett’s three other drugstores were lost to Urban Renewal.
  • Dr. Garrett himself ran the store until his retirement in 1995 at age 100.


Hamlin Drug Company, established 1904

  • Located on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh.
  • Opened in 1904 as People’s Drug Store and renamed in 1907.
  • The oldest African American–owned pharmacy in the United States.
  • Pharmacist John Johnson has owned and operated Hamlin Drug Company since 1957.

Soda Fountain Items

Ice-cream scoop

Not every drugstore had a soda fountain, but the two did tend to go together, especially in the minds of Americans a generation or more ago. Besides selling carbonated beverages, virtually every soda fountain sold ice cream. Whether in malts and milkshakes, floats, sodas, sundaes, or simply by itself, ice cream was the fountain’s single biggest-selling item year-round. As a result, ice cream generated a significant percentage of the fountain’s revenues, selling for two to three times the price of any other fountain product. Ice cream had to be kept cold with the aid of large iceboxes like the one behind the soda fountain. An ice truck or wagon came by every day selling large blocks of ice. The blocks were placed inside the icebox to keep foods from spoiling or melting. Ice cream was served at the drugstore soda fountain and packed in small paper cartons for customers to take home, to be eaten quickly, before it melted.

Coca-Cola glass

Coca-Cola was one of many carbonated beverages offered at soda fountains. It was usually served in a glass much like this bell-shaped one. Atlanta pharmacist John S. Pemberton invented the syrup for Coca-Cola in 1886 and sold it to local soda fountains, where it was mixed with carbonated water and promoted as a healthful tonic. Coca-Cola contained cocaine originally, but that substance was removed from the formula in 1905. Coke, as it came to be called after 1941, first appeared in bottles around 1900. The familiar and distinctive curved bottle came out in 1916.

Pewter glass holder

Ladies of all classes once wore gloves whenever they left the house. When they stopped for refreshment at the drugstore soda fountain, they often used a special holder to avoid getting their gloves wet from condensation buildup on the outside of the glass.

Pepsi Cola glass and metal poster – The poster and the glass demonstrate the method used for mixing a soda in the 1920s. The “soda jerk” filled the glass to the syrup line with the actual cola syrup. He would then add soda water to the next line. Ice was added and the drink had to be stirred well. If it wasn’t mixed correctly, it would not taste good. The poster shows the steps for mixing a soda.

Pills and Patent Remedies

Suggestions for Interpreting the 1920s Drugstore

The 1920s Drugstore is a visually engaging period space representing an important community healing institution that has served untold numbers of North Carolinians from all walks of life. In essence, the drugstore reflects a melding of the places where North Carolinians have sought healing. For example, many of the pharmaceutical, hygiene, and cleaning products on display in the drugstore contain ingredients found in nature. Also, in compounding prescriptions, the pharmacist used various herbs and plant-derived products (in addition to inorganic chemical substances), which were stocked in apothecary jars lining the workroom walls. These prescription remedies, along with patent and commercially-manufactured medicines, were used in the home to treat illness.

Additional Objects on the Gallery Cart

Mortar and pestle

Pharmacists used a mortar and pestle to grind herbs and other substances. In fact, the word pestle derives from the Latin verb meaning “to pound.” Associated with medicine and the apothecary shop, the mortar and pestle serves as the symbol for pharmacy. This set is made of porcelain, but other materials, such as glass, marble, metal, and wood, were also used. (Wood is least preferable, because it absorbs ingredients. For this reason, wooden mortars and pestles were not usually found on the pharmacist’s worktable.)

Page from the fifth edition (1926) of the National Formulary

The American Pharmaceutical Association began publishing the National Formulary (NF) in 1888 to serve as a companion volume to the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Together, these two works list all of the official drug standards to which pharmacists must adhere. Published separately until 1975, the USP provided standards and formulas for all official, or “first choice,” substances. The NF, on the other hand, supplied the same information for medicines not considered first choice but still largely prescribed by doctors or asked for by drug customers across the country. Today the two books are virtually the same in content. The NF is more than a formula book, though. It also gives instructions for mixing ingredients and preparing prescriptions so that pharmacists and customers may be assured of a medicine’s “purity,” “authenticity,” and “therapeutic effect.”

Sloan’s Liniment (reproduction box)

Manufactured between 1920 and 1940 by Missouri’s Standard Laboratories, with offices in New York City and St. Louis. This product doubled as a human and veterinary treatment for muscle cramps, sprains, strains, and bruises. Directions indicate that it should be massaged on the affected area, but when applied to tender skin, it should first be diluted with an equal part of olive or mineral oil. Active ingredients included extracts of capsicum, oil of camphor (known for its narcotic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic [numbing], and soporific [sedative] effects), turpentine, and oil of pine.

H&R Cough Syrup (reproduction box)

Manufactured by Allied Drug Products Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee, roughly between 1935 and 1950. H&R was most likely used to suppress coughs due to colds, but the makers claimed it would also relieve coughs occurring as a result of smoking and excessive vocal exercise. In addition to pine tar and honey, other major ingredients included wild cherry bark (common in most cough syrups), chloroform (an anesthetic), extracts of white pine bark, creosote (pine tree extract now used to coat telephone poles), balm of gilead buds (acts as an expectorant) and sanguinaria (member of the bloodwort family, also used for its expectorant qualities).

About Patent Medicines

Patent medicines have been around for at least 200 years, though they exploded in popularity in the United States beginning in the 1870s. Originally the term “patent” referred to a seal of approval the English government issued to certain medicines whose contents were revealed by the maker and whose compounds were believed effective. Later, the word came to characterize all commercially produced medicines sold through the mail, in general stores, and by traveling medicine shows. 

Although doctors did prescribe them, patent medicines were often purchased by individuals seeking “bottled self-help.” Moreover, advertisements for them frequently suggested antipathy toward doctors and methods associated with “heroic” medicine, such as bleeding and purging. In the Victorian period (late 1800s), heroic medicine gradually lost ground to gentler treatments, including the noninvasive use of patent medicines. But some of these products had very little medicinal value because they contained large quantities of water, alcohol, food coloring, lard, and opium or other narcotics. (These substances are both necessary and useful: alcohol acts as a preservative, opium and similar drugs temporarily relieve pain, and food coloring makes medicine more pleasing to the eye. Problems arise, however, when a medicine contains primarily these additives and little else.) In addition, the herbs and other plant-derived ingredients often proved useless in treating the variety of complaints that many patent medicines claimed to cure.

Effective against specific ailments, most naturally occurring substances do not work as general panaceas. Thus, patent medicines that were promoted as cure-alls for America’s most common ills tended to offer “an ounce of physiological efficacy and a pound of placebo.” After 1906 the Federal Pure Food and Drugs Act regulated patent medicines by requiring the maker to disclose on the product’s label all ingredients. The act also prohibited false advertising claims. As a result, many questionable compounds disappeared, and the buying public became more discerning.

In 1926 an estimated 30,000 different patent medicines could be found on drugstore shelves around the country. Pharmacists found they had to stock a wide selection in order to satisfy customer demands. Nevertheless, they limited their displays of patent medicines for several reasons. One reason is that pharmacists keenly felt the competition created by ready-made medicines. Fearing the demise of their profession, pharmacists encouraged doctors and customers to use prescription compounds mixed in the pharmacy, where fresher ingredients and standardized processes yielded a more effective and better-quality product.  Pharmacists also had less incentive to sell patent medicines because they made very little money doing so. Even though many medicines displayed a preprinted price on the box, general retailers often sold the products for much less, a system known as cut pricing. Pharmacists, too, had to lower their prices just to remain competitive, but lost revenue in the process. Finally, professional pharmaceutical ethics forbade pharmacists from selling or endorsing worthless nostrums, so it is probable that the pharmacist arranged patent medicine displays to avoid the appearance of endorsement.

Other Items in Drugstore


“One size fits all” best describes toothbrushes in the 1920s. This toothbrush has a bone handle fitted with natural boar-hair bristles. Toothbrushes have been in use since the 1600s, although until the 20th century only wealthier individuals could afford a store-bought one. Before toothbrushes were common, people cleaned their teeth with their finger or a rag-wrapped stick. Toothpicks were highly fashionable cleaning devices as well.

After 1890 dentists began to understand the causes of tooth decay and started teaching patients, especially schoolchildren, methods of oral hygiene. The toothbrush plays a key role by removing plaque and tartar while stimulating blood flow to the gums. With the knowledge of how to fight cavities came an increasing awareness of appearance and changing standards of beauty. People began to associate good looks and popularity with sparkling white teeth.

Sea sponge

Before the development of synthetic materials, natural sponges were commonly used for bathing and household cleaning. Fishermen harvest them in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, in the waters off the west coast of Florida, and throughout the Caribbean. Sponges are actually the skeletons of a primitive aquatic animal, with the external skin-like layer of cells removed. Today, people use natural sponges mostly for arts-and-crafts projects.

Darning egg

In addition to selling toiletries and increasingly popular cosmetic items, such as powder, lipstick, and rouge, drugstores sold more practical goods to women. This wood darning egg is an example. Darners probably came into use during the 1800s. They were used in mending clothing, especially socks and gloves. The item to be mended was slipped over the egg, which held it firmly in place. Although department stores and mail-order catalogs offered ready-made apparel in the 1920s, many women continued to make clothing for themselves and their families and to mend garments to extend wear.

Men’s garters

Just as women wore garters to hold up their stockings, men wore garters to hold up their socks. Men’s garters were popular between the 1890s and the 1940s. They buckled around the upper calf just below the knee and attached to the sock in just one place.

Octagon soap

This all-purpose soap has been made by the Colgate-Palmolive Company for a long time. The packaging has changed very little over the years. Colgate recommends it for removing stains in the wash, cutting grease on dishes, and keeping stoves and cabinets clean. It has also been used as bath soap.

Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap

Grandpa Soap Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, has manufactured this soap since 1878. Used as a bath and shampoo soap, it contains an oil derived from pine tar that kills germs and moisturizes.

Bon Ami

Since 1886 Bon Ami cleanser has been used around the house as a soap and polishing agent (it contains feldspar). It is safe to use on glass, porcelain, and metals and is also gentle on the skin.

Bag Balm

Farmers discovered that Bag Balm, officially marketed as an antiseptic ointment for cow’s udders, also works well as a skin softener for rough, chapped hands. The Dairy Association Company in Wisconsin has manufactured Bag Balm since 1899.

White Cloverine Salve

The manufacture of this popular salve started as a family business in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, in 1860. A unique sales method introduced Cloverine into households across the country in the 1930s. The technique worked like this: ads for Cloverine promised anyone willing to sell the product door-to-door either a portion of the profits for each sale made or premiums redeemable out of a prize catalog. About 300,000 people responded, anxious to make extra cash or obtain toys and other goods during the Depression years. Demand for Cloverine skyrocketed, and Wilson Chemical Company, the maker of Cloverine, enjoyed huge growth and profits. The Federal Trade Commission stopped this method of sales after 1967, virtually shrinking the company back to a family business. Today, Cloverine is available through mail order and selected retail outlets. The tin container, which shows the original company logo, looks just as it did around the turn of the century.

Railroad Man’s Magazine (reproduction cover)

As the title suggests, the target audience for this monthly publication is men with an interest in trains. The magazine has been around since 1906, although the name has changed a few times. First published as Railroad Stories, the name shifted to Railroad Man’s Magazine sometime before World War I. In 1979 the magazine combined with another periodical and became Railfan & Railroad.

Note: At the top of the cover of this issue, a message from the postmaster general urges readers to recycle the magazine once they have finished reading it. The U.S. Post Office pledged to send all used issues mailed in by readers to soldiers and sailors “destined to proceed over-seas,” most likely bound for Europe to fight in the First World War.

Better Homes & Gardens (reproduction cover)

Still gracing newsstands and coffee tables today, Better Homes & Gardens began publication in 1922 out of Des Moines, Iowa. Each month it offers readers ideas and how-to information on interior decorating, landscape design, home entertainment, parenting, food, money, and automotive-related topics.

The Youth’s Companion (reproduction magazine cover)

This weekly magazine, published by the Perry Mason Company of Boston, offered “the best of American life in fiction, fact and comment.” Its offerings included short and serial stories, current events commentary, general interest articles, recipes, and a children’s page with poems and tales.

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