The John Wyeth & Brother Chemists of Philadelphia may sounds like a long lost relic of another age, but it has grown, conglomerated, been rechristened and acquired other companies with alacrity since its founding in 1860. In fact, chances are good that you currently have in your home one or more name brand consumer products sold by this enormous company at one time or another, including Advil, Centrum, ChapStick, Robitussin, Dimetapp, Preparation H., Old English Furniture Polish, Jiffy Pop, Chef Boyardee, and Gulden’s Mustard to name but a few. But while its products are ubiquitous, the company now known as Wyeth, and in most of the 20th century as American Home Products, has little name recognition when compared to other multinational consumer goods companies like Unilever, Procter & Gamble Co. and Nestlé.
Bottle embossed: “JOHN WYETH & BRO PHILADELPHIA”
According to Notable Names Database, “John Wyeth, founder of the present-day pharmaceutical giant, was the son of a druggist, and studied at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia). At graduation he took employment at Henry C. Blair’s apothecary store in Philadelphia, and four years later he was made a partner in the shop. In 1860 he quit Blair’s shop and, with his brother Frank Wyeth, opened John Wyeth & Brother, Chemists, at 1410 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The shop’s key innovation was to mix medicinal compounds in advance, in large batches, allowing the Wyeth Brothers to sell commonly-prescribed drugs at a lower price than competitors. Wyeth’s main success, however, came from a government contract during the American Civil War, to deliver medicines and beef extract to the Union Army.
In 1872, an employee of Wyeth’s, Henry Bower, invented a machine for making tablets from medicinal powders, allowing mass production of pills with pre-measured dosages. After fire destroyed the shop in 1889, the brothers left the retail business and opened a larger manufacturing facility at the corner of 11th & Washington. The company’s products included a wide array of compressed pills, effervescing salts, elixirs, lozenges, suppositories, and bottled cannabis powder (to be taken with hot brandy, according to its label). His son Stuart took over the drug business at John Wyeth’s death in 1907, and at the younger Wyeth’s death in 1929, the company was bequeathed to his alma mater, Harvard University. Harvard sold the company to American Home Products in 1932, and AHP rebranded itself Wyeth in 2002.”
From Medicinal Fluid Extracts Manufactured by John Wyeth & Brother: With Doses, Remedial Attributes, and Formulae for Extemporaneous Preparations (Google eBook), 1892
From The Pharmaceutical Era, Volume 39 (Google eBook) by D. O. Haynes & Company, January 16, 1908, pg 69.
From Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting (Google eBook) by Jim Cox, 2008, excerpts from pg 73-78.
According to Wikipedia.org, “In 1941, the US entered World War II, and Wyeth shipped typical wartime drugs such as sulfa bacteriostatics, blood plasma, typhus vaccine, quinine, and atabrine tablets. Wyeth was later rewarded for its contribution to the war effort.”
Most of the advertisements I’ve found with the Wyeth name date to the WWII period.
1943 Wyeth Ad with Pioneers of American Medicine
1944 Wyeth Ad of Doctor that Postpones Retirement after Pearl Harbor
1944 Wyeth Ad of Doctor delivering babies
1944 Wyeth Ad with Doctor at Home
1945 Wyeth Ad Advertisement with Navy
1945 Wyeth Ad with WWII Military Nurse