80 Years of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy

This post is from Points, the joint blog of AIHP and the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. Points publishes original reflections about the history of drugs, medicines, alcohol, pharmacy, and their allied fields.

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On January 22, 1941, six men gathered in a pharmacognosy laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founded the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Its explicit purpose was to serve as a center for pharmaco-historical research and information. Its implicit purpose was to provide an academic home for scholar-pharmacist Dr. George Urdang, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Urdang had fled Berlin in 1938, making his way to New York, where he obtained an American pharmacy degree from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy at age 57.

Soon afterward, in the summer of 1939, Wisconsin pharmacy professor Edward Kremers recruited Urdang to Madison to help complete a comprehensive history of pharmacy textbook based on materials Kremers had been collecting for decades. After the publication of Kremers and Urdang’s History of Pharmacy by Lippincott in 1940, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy was established with Urdang as its first Director.

Later in 1941, an anonymous dispatch—no doubt written by Urdang—announced the establishment of the new historical society in Madison, Wisconsin, and outlined the purposes of this “center for all pharmaco-historical work”:

George Urdang (second from right) with three graduate students, including future AIHP Director Glenn Sonnnedecker (left), c. 1951
  1. To aid in the collection, selection, arrangement, and exhibition of pharmaceutico-historical material and—as far as possible—to catalogue and to inventory this material;
  2. To give the research worker in the field of historical pharmacy the possibility to discuss his projects, to get advice on literature, and to publish the manuscripts concerned;
  3. To furnish information and means for historical instruction at the Colleges of Pharmacy;
  4. To furnish material for popular pharmaceutico-historical information directly to the general public (journals, newspapers, etc.), or to individual pharmacists for use in their social or professional relations;
  5. To cooperate with the historians of the related sciences and professions, especially of medicine, in order to promote the mutual scientific, professional, and social understanding and progress derived from such a cooperation.

Please click the read more button below to see the rest of this post on Points by Greg Higby, the former AIHP Executive Director and current AIHP Fischelis Scholar. The Institute’s history will be familiar to many readers, but for our newer members—or for veteran members who would like a refresher—click below!


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