150 Years of American Pharmacy: Past visions of the future of pharmacy

July 9, 2007

In 1907 pharmacists predicted the future of pharmacy

Ask any group of pharmacists to predict the future of pharmacy, and, as likely as not, you'll get everything except agreement. One hundred years ago, it was no different. In 1907, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, Druggists' Circular asked three pharmacists to speculate what the industry's future would look like. Turn-of-the-century pharmacists saw an industry increasingly controlled by federal and state regulations and the rising influence of powerful drug manufacturers and wholesalers. How that would play out might have been hard to imagine, and yet the best and most accurate vision came from the least expected source.

Naturally, Druggists' Circular turned to a few industry experts to figure out the future. J. W. Knox was a former chairman of the section on education at the prestigious American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA). Knox's insight into the industry, it appeared, left him with little hope for the future. He concluded that "pharmacy will inhabit a comparatively unimportant place fifty years hence." That downfall, Knox argued, was based on the less than scientific basis for much of pharmacy. "A large part of the drug business is due to the successful quackery that plays upon the hopes and fears of the gullible masses," he argued.

In contrast, Fred Nelligar offered a decidedly more specific vision of the future. A self-described "private in the ranks of pharmacy," Nelligar described a future of automation complete with photo-phones and same-day service. In the future, a pharmacy would be staffed by "three men you see at the desk [who] do nothing but receive prescriptions, write the data on cards to which they are attached, and send them to their separate departments through pneumatic tubes."

According to Nelligar when supplies got low, the pharmacist would send "an aerogram to its state warehouse by the government wireless [telegraph], and the goods are on their way in the pneumatic tube, and are delivered in 30 minutes at the latest." Perhaps we need to hear a little more from "pharmacy privates" about the future of pharmacy in 2007.