Non-Drug Medical Supplies

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Gum ElasticGum elastica or caoutchouc (pron. cow-tchook) was one of the several non-drug substances commonly purchased from druggists in the early 19th century. It came to be called "rubber" because of its excellent ability to remove pencil marks. We can only speculate that Whelan bought this substance for just that use by the captains.1

India Ink (China)–Dyes, inks, and flavorings were drugstore specialties in the young United States. The Corps purchased a quarter pound of so-called India ink (it usually came from China). This product was commonly made up in sticks from a dried mixture of lampblack and vegetable gum.

Copperas (Mineral native to USA)—By the early 1800s, the term "copperas" was fading away, being replaced by more accurate chemical terminology. Confusingly, there was a family of sulfates sold under this rubric–"white copperas" (zinc), "blue copperas" (copper), and "green copperas" (iron) being the most common. Simply "copperas" probably meant a mixture of green and blue, with the green predominating. Iron sulfate (vitriol of iron) was commonly prescribed at the time as a tonic or as an agent against intestinal worms. A chemical with a wide variety of uses, copperas was an ingredient in permanent ink, which may have been the reason for the large amount purchased by Whelan.2

Containers, chests, kits, lancets, syringes, etc.–Physicians commonly purchased their surgical and related supplies from druggists. At Gillaspy and Strong, Whelan picked up the essentials: a pocket set of surgical instruments, a dental kit (mainly tools to extract teeth), a clyster (enema) syringe, four penile syringes for treating gonorrhea, three "best" lancets, a small quantity of patent lint (otherwise known then as "linen scrapings")3, a very expensive tourniquet, and a variety of containers. For amputations and other major surgical procedures, the captains would have carpenter's tools at their disposal. (Asepsis, including the sterilization of instruments, was still 80 years in the future.)

Aside from the tourniquet, the other items are pretty routine: Dental hygiene at the time was mediocre, so tooth pulling was a common event in the military. There were only two complaints of toothache during the entire journey; no extractions were necessary.

Enemas were used in ancient times as well as among pre-historic cultures to treat a wide variety of afflictions. Apparently, Lewis administered only one during the whole journey. In late May of 1806, Sacagawea's 15-month-old son Jean Baptiste ran a fever accompanied by some sort of a throat or glandular ailment, which failed to respond to either "a doze of creem of tartar" or "a fresh poltice of onions," so Lewis resorted to an enema, or "clyster." The problem cleared up by the very next day.4

Just as the large quantity of cinchona bark indicated that Lewis anticipated intermittent fever along the journey, his request of four penis syringes reflected his concerns over venereal disease. Trappers and traders who returned from the West told of rampant venereal disease among the Indians. Thomas Lowry states that a solution of sugar of lead (lead acetate) would have been injected into the urethra with a penis syringe to soothe the pain associated with gonorrhea. (The two distinct diseases, syphilis and gonorrhea, were not clearly differentiated at the time of the expedition. Physicians treated syphilitic symptoms such as skin lesions with mercury compounds, while they administered oral drugs like copaiba or soothing injections for the dysuria and discharge associated with gonorrhea.) Lewis gave at least three men–Gibson, Goodrich and McNeal–intensive, long-term mercury treatments for syphilis.5

Lancets were absolutely essential to medical (and veterinary) practice of the day to open up veins for bleeding out bad humors. And the various containers were probably used for things other than medicinal storage or compounding.

Dr. Strong's Patent Tourniquet

Early illustration showing a wood and cloth tourniquet

Philadelphia Medical Museum, 1 (184–05): 317.

There is no evidence that this type of tourniquet was ever used during the expedition. Apparently, when Lewis had to stop bleeding he did so by direct pressure, or by stitching and bandaging. More than likely they disposed of Strong's gadget as a trade item.

The Tourniquet–In his book on the medical aspects of the Lewis and Clark expedition, David J. Peck looks over the list of supplies and is surprised by the tourniquet costing $3.50, remarking, "it must have been embroidered or laced with gold."6 The source of this expensive item can be traced back to the junior partner of the firm of Gillaspy & Strong. The tourniquet answers as well the question of why purveyor Whelan, a well-known Free or "fighting" Quaker, went to the obscure firm of Gillaspy and Strong rather than established Free Quaker druggists such as the Marshalls or the Wetherills.

In 1801, a patent was issued to a Joseph Strong of Pennsylvania for his invention of the axle tourniquet. By using a ratchet and key apparatus connected to the belt of the tourniquet, a surgeon was able to exert greater and more precise pressure.

Strong's first model sold for $4, which was a large sum but understandable when its several hand-made parts needed to work together smoothly under considerable tension.7

A cousin of the martyred Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, Joseph Strong was born 10 March 1770 and probably started his medical career working in the drugstore of Drs. Asa and Daniel Hopkins of Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating from Yale in 1778, he made his way down to Philadelphia and studied medicine under Benjamin Rush. Like many others, he did not return for a second round of the same courses and did not graduate. Instead, he joined the army as a surgeon's mate and served in General Wayne's Legion in the Ohio Campaign. In 1796, after the conclusion of Wayne's campaign, Strong left the service and returned to Philadelphia, where he practiced as a surgeon and physician. Apparently, he renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Rush and aspired to become a member of the Philadelphia medical establishment. His tourniquet did gain favorable attention from some of his colleagues. Strong had an entrepreneurial spirit and tried his hand in a wide variety of business ventures such as manufacturing white lead. Between 1798 and his death in 1812, he moved several times, which perhaps reflects his changing business interests. He died in 1812 from yellow fever.8


Dyott's Drugstore

Ink sketch of a large 19th century store and warehouse

Kremers Reference Files, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy

For many years after its opening in 1807, the store of Thomas W. Dyott stood at the corner of Second and Race Streets in Philadelphia. With his extravagant advertising techniques "Dr." Dyott became America's best-known dealer in patent medicines—he called them "family medicines"—such as his "Vegetable Nervous Cordial," and the "Infallible Worm Destroying Lozenges." The sign across the front of the building reads "Philadelphia Cheap Drug, Medicine, Chemical, Colour [dyes] & Glass Warehouse." Dyotte also owned a large factory for making glass bottles.

Why Gillaspy and Strong?

There is no apparent evidence that Joseph Strong met Lewis or Clark during the Ohio Campaign but this connection might explain why Whelan bought his goods from this relatively unknown druggist. If Lewis had heard that Strong was a veteran of General Wayne's campaign, he may have suggested Gillaspy & Strong. Perhaps it was Strong's relationship with Rush, who may have referred patients to Gillaspy and Strong to get his anti-bilious pills. Either way, these are two pretty strong connections, and one does not have to speculate too far to explain why this obscure druggist received this commission.

Of course, a modern observer might ask–what is a physician doing as a druggist? In 1803, the lines between apothecary, doctor, and druggist were indistinct. Before the burgeoning of medical schools in the 19th century, most physicians learned their occupation via apprenticeship. Physicians commonly worked out of drugstores, following a model similar to the British apothecary. Strong, for example, apprenticed in such a shop before his one year at Penn. His experience in the military added to his training, which prepared him for the strenuous work of a surgeon in the period before anesthesia. Physicians commonly moved from the apothecary shop to wholesaling to chemical manufacturing and back to medical practice as whim or economic opportunities shifted. As the junior partner in this firm, Strong may have joined Gillaspy in order to promote his tourniquet and sell the products of his other ventures. According to Philadelphia city directories, the firm only lasted 4 or 5 years.9

Preparedness—In conclusion, an examination of the 1803 bill of Gillaspy and Strong reveals that Lewis expected to face various fevers10, venereal diseases, and gastro-intestinal ailments during the expedition West. His rather standard list of medical materials shows a balance of strong chemical and botanical medicines, almost all of which were imported.

The pharmaceutical enterprise industry in Philadelphia was composed of a complex cast of characters–physicians, apothecaries, and druggists–who exchanged roles often and easily. After only a few years, Gillaspy and Strong left the druggist business and returned to their individual medical practices.

The Philadelphia-area drug trade, founded in part on its Quaker heritage, would soon expand through patent medicine makers like Thomas Dyott and fine chemical manufacturing firms like Farr & Kunzi to a dominant position in pharmaceuticals that continues to the present day.11

1. Dispensatory of the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1918), 1367-69.

2. Edinburgh New Dispensatory (1791), 429-430.

3. Noah Webster, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806; reprint, New York: Bounty Books, 1970).

4. Moulton, Journals, May 24-26, 1806.

5. Thomas P. Lowry, Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 43-44.

6. Peck, Or Perish in the Attempt, 52.

7. "Dr. Strong's Account of his Axle Tourniquet, in a Letter addressed to the Editor of the Philadelphia Medical Museum," Philadelphia Medical Museum, vol. 1 (1804-5), 311-317.

8. Lockwood Barr, "Joseph Strong, M.D., Yale 1788: Army Surgeon, Inventor, Practitioner of Physic," Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 13, no. 4 (1941), 429-450; "Dr. Joseph Strong, . . . b. 10 March 1770, d. 24 April 1812,", accessed October 2004.

9. Robinson's Philadelphia Register and City Directory for 1799 (Philadelphia: James Robinson, 1799); The Philadelphia Directory, for 1800 (Philadelphia: Cornelius Stafford, 1800), 53; The Philadelphia Directory, City and County Register for 1803 (Philadelphia: James Robinson, 1803), 100; The Philadelphia Directory for 1804 (Philadelphia: James Robinson, 1804), 93.

10. On September 14, 1803, two weeks and 200 miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, Lewis wrote: "The [intermittent] fever and ague and bilious fevers here commence their banefull oppression and continue through the whole course of the river with increasing violence as you approach it's mouth." He had good reason to expect to find "the fever" on the Mississippi and lower Missouri also. All three terms, along with a half-dozen more he didn't mention, were synonyms for what some people called mal-aria—"bad air." Not until 1880 was the blame pinned on the minuscule mosquito. Peck, Or Perish in the Attempt, 62-64. In any case, the fever was the disease, not a symptom, as we see it today.

11. Haynes, American Chemical Industry, 213 ff. James Harvey Young, The Toadstool Millionaires (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), 34-43; Maryann Feldman and Yda Schreuder, "Initial Advantage: The Origins of the Geographic Concentration of the Pharmaceutical Industry in the Mid-Atlantic Region," Industrial and Corporate Change, vol. 5 (1996), 839-862.

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