Drug Topics through the decades: 1910-1920

February 10, 2016

A hundred years ago, Drug Topics was a pocket-sized monthly, circulation: 12,000; yearly price: 25 cents. While some of its content seems antiquated now, some seems eerily familiar. And the illustrations? A hoot!

In the early part of the 20th century, drug wholesaler McKesson & Robbins published Drug Topics as a pocket-sized magazine boasting a monthly circulation of more than 12,000. It retailed at an annual subscription cost of 25 cents.

With a primary mission to educate, improve, and entertain the druggist, drug clerk, and drug trade in general, Drug Topics’ tidbits of advice for the retailer were timely and practical approaches for boosting drugstore sales, including of products manufactured by McKesson & Robbins.

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Making the most of the weather

For example, in a 1919 feature, Drug Topics lauded February as the druggist’s bonanza month.

Even though “February is a dour month” because of the weather, the editor noted, “it could be a grand month for the druggist if he is alive to its opportunities in a business way,” with customers celebrating its various anniversaries and holidays - Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Longfellow’s birthday, and of course, Valentine’s Day.

In addition to the sale of souvenirs and novelties, the editor advised, druggists should prominently display seasonable items for soothing “coughs, colds, sore throats, chilblains, chapped hands, grippe, and many other severe and minor ailments.”

Pushing the product

Inside the issue, McKesson & Robbins cleverly ran advertisements designed to drive druggists to its own offerings, like Strickly Pure Old-Fashioned Horehound Drops, Horehound Herb Tea, Pure Granulated Sugar, and Wild Cherry Drops to “tickle the palate and ease a tickle in the throat.”

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The Great War

Drug Topics also followed the events leading up to America’s participation in World War I, also known as the Great War, and its impact on drug and chemical imports with “The Market Report.”

In this column, the editor warned that with few suppliers of chemicals in the United States in 1917 and the impending U.S. participation in the war effort, the price of imported materials would increase.

Scare items in early April 1917 included citric acid, phosphoric acid, salicylic acid, antipyrine, arsenic, soap bark, ergot, licorice root, and sulphur.

Business advice

Despite these hardships, Drug Topics’ editor offered advice for a drugstore business seeking to boost trade with features on subjects such as winning the patronage of a soldier’s family; how the well-managed store makes an ideal place for a business education; ways to save money by “Making a Drug Store Pay”; and opportunities to achieve larger profits using weekly advertising circulars, offering charge accounts, soliciting business from manufacturing plants, and remembering customers’ birthdays - still good advice today.