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1920s Drugstore

A re-created 1920s Drugstore, an exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History

Imagine sipping a root beer float at the soda fountain or watching the pharmacist mix drugs with a mortar and pestle. Drugstores like this one, featuring original fixtures from the former J.C. Brantley Drugstore in downtown Raleigh, were once a constant center of activity in North Carolina.

Discover how this 1920s drugstore differs from today’s drugstore chains. The J.C. Brantley Drugstore fixtures, such as the massive marble counter at the soda fountain, large ornate mirrors, and mahogany cabinets, date to the 1890s, when the drugstore (originally the O.G. King Drugstore) first opened its doors on Fayetteville Street.

In the drugstore workroom, see where the pharmacist would grind medicinal herbs and compound drugs by hand to fill prescriptions. In the 1900s many North Carolinians relied on pharmacists to prescribe remedies since there was a shortage of physicians in rural areas. 

Outside the workroom, the intriguing home remedy products and patent medicines (nonprescription, prepackaged medicines) seem unusual today. For those pesky intestinal worms, folks used St. Joseph’s Worm Syrup. For coughs, they bought a bottle of white pine and tar syrup. For muscle aches, they rubbed on Sloan’s Liniment, “an excellent counter-irritant,” that was also useful on pigs, horses and other farm animals. 

Children will rush to a candy counter filled with jelly beans, candy corn, peppermint sticks and other treats. (Most are available in the Museum Shop.) Enticing games, wooden train sets, doll furniture, books and toys also will attract attention.

The 1920s drugstore’s many display cases feature everyday items such as lipstick, soap, cigars and shaving supplies. How things have changed — the toothbrushes have bristles made of horsehair or pighair!

Want a virtual peek inside our 1920s Drugstore? Check out this 360˚ tour! Click on the large white circles to move through the space, and use your mouse or your arrow keys to maneuver around. You can view full screen, zoom in, and spin around, too. Find more information by clicking on a blue-and-white information dot—within each information dot window, you may need to scroll down for more text and an image link.