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Jan 09 2020

Happy Birthday to America's First Pharmacist!

January 17 marks the 314th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers, and an individual who left his mark in more ways than most people probably realize.

Although most often recognized for his roles in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – and in negotiating the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War – Franklin also made significant contributions in a diverse range of other fields including:

  • Science – An iconic illustration of Franklin depicts him flying a kite during a fierce rainstorm.  According to the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society, that experiment led to the invention of the lightning rod, and an understanding of positive and negative charges.
  • Journalism/Publishing – Writing under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders, Franklin founded Poor Richard's Almanack in 1773.  The publication, which according to History.com "became one of the most popular publications in colonial America," was produced annually for the next 25 years.  More notable Almanack quotes included: "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead," and "Lost time is never found again."
  • Inventor – Franklin also invented an extensive array of products which were "practical and designed to make everyday life easier."  As the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society notes, he never patented any of his ideas, choosing instead to consider them "a gift to the public."  More notable inventions included: Swim fins, the Franklin stove, lightning rod, street lamps, bifocals, odometers and perhaps even the rocking chair (although that feat seems open to debate).

But perhaps his biggest gift to the public, was his work with medicine, especially the legacy he left in the areas of pharmacy and public health.  As reported by Pharmacy Times, "Benjamin Franklin was  instrumental in creating the United States' first public hospital – and the first hospital pharmacy, although it was then called the hospital apothecary."

That first hospital – Pennsylvania Hospital – was built in Philadelphia as a way to "take care of the sick, poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia." Dr, Thomas Bond originally envisioned the hospital and enlisted his friend Benjamin Franklin to raise the necessary funds.  Dr. Bond also envisioned including an apothecary in the hospital, an idea which according to a 2006 article published by the Society of Hospital Medicine, was met with resistance from the community members, who feared that since the hospital's mission was catering to the poor, the added cost of the apothecary would be too burdensome.

But thanks to Franklin's diligence, funds were raised to purchase "more than 112 pounds worth of drugs from London," filling the shelves of the country's first apothecary.  A few facts about that facility, based on Society of Hospital Medicine research, include:

  • Very few of the drugs available in the first pharmacy were made in North America, with most coming instead from England.  Those originating in North America came primarily from "American Indian traditions that involved extraction of botanical drugs such as cascara, bloodroot, and jalap."
  • Nearly 170 of the preparations developed by Native Americans, or their derivatives, are still used today.
  • The first salaried pharmacist, Jonathon Roberts, earned 15 pounds annually – a rate equivalent to roughly $20 in today's currency.  Roberts' successor, John Morgan, later became a physician and "vocal advocate for a more distinct separation of professions among physicians, surgeons, and pharmacists in America."

Franklin and his peers laid the groundwork for what today has become the world's foremost pharmacy industry.  And as the U.S. industry continues to lead in developing more efficient – technology-based – pharmacy management systems, prioritizing patient interactions, and overall pharmacy innovation, we are grateful for the perseverance and foresight of people like Benjamin Franklin.