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Upjohn's Apothecary Was Enthusiastically Real

Main Street, U.S.A. was listed as one of Disneyland's many "free exhibits" in some early materials. Many of the sponsored shops featured priceless, one-of-a-kind antiques on display. The Yale and Towne lock shop put some very old devices out, U.S. Time's Timex shop exhibited bejeweled timepieces, there were vintage pianos at the Wurlitzer corner, and antiques at the Bank of America, but no sponsor outdid Upjohn Pharmaceutical's Apothecary.
Upjohn Pharmacy at 109, 111, 113, and 115 Main Street (Postcard)
Upjohn's president, Donald Sherwood Gilmore, was fast friends with Walt Disney. Gilmore lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but vacationed at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, where he and Walt would ride horses and relax. Gilmore, son of a department store founder, proved himself invaluable to his step-father and father-in-law, William Erastus Upjohn, the inventor of the modern friable pill and founder of the pharmaceutical company. Don Gilmore admired intricate silver work and collected vintage automobiles. Don't worry, Walt: Of course Upjohn will operate an old-fashioned corner apothecary on Main Street.

Sponsors on Main Street were required to pay for interior finishes as designed by WED Enterprises, and old-fashioned materials could be pricey. Unlike every other lessee, Upjohn rejected WED's design as insufficiently accurate. Upjohn employees dug through their archives for photographs of actual pharmacies from the 1880s and hired well-known retail designer Will Burtin. Dr. Garrod MacLeod, the editor of the pharmacist's magazine, Scope, was engaged for his knowledge of industry practices and familiarity with vintage equipment--he was an avid antiquer.

The watchword was accuracy: The leaded glass chandeliers, like many of the artifacts in the shop, originally saw use in real pharmacies.
Burtin redesigned the shop interior for accuracy and MacLeod gathered more than a thousand antiques for display. Upjohn committed to staffing the shop with a trained pharmacist to answer any and all questions.

The Upjohn Apothecary from the original 1:48 Main Street model. (Photo: Disney History Institute)
The shop was lit by leaded glass chandeliers that had been used by a Kalamazoo druggist for twenty years until he replaced them in 1918. A pot-bellied stove in the center of the shop (like the one across the street at the Swift Market House) was authentic, as well. It was found in New Jersey. Outside the corner door, Upjohn hung a stained glass mortar and pestle found in Philadelphia. At night, the lamp inside it projected "Rx" onto the sidewalk.

Dr. MacLeod assembled a collection of syringes, some dating to the Civil War, and antique microscopes, some of which were even older. He repaired the microscopes and provided vintage slides so that visitors could appreciate how the devices were used. The apex of the microscope collection, purchased from a man in New York, is a working wood and paper scope built in 1700.

Live leeches! (Photo from Daveland collection.)
The University of Arizona now has much of the Upjohn collection. From their brochure: "More than 100 items were purchased from an antique dealer in Charleston, South Carolina. Outstanding among these pieces is an 1840 pharmacist's balance... The base of the balance is made of marble, the gold-decorated pillar of white porcelain, and the balance proper is silver-plated brass. Proof marks for fair weight testing date it back to an 1840 French prescription counter. From the same collection comes a black Wedgwood bust (circa 1800) of the third century physician Hippocrates, author of the oath of ethics still taken today by most medical graduates."

Leo B. Austin managed the collection of 100 to 150-year-old French and mid-European apothecary jars; dozens of showglobes, including one 150 years old; a mortar and pestle from 1575; and an 18th-century Persian “bluebird,” a spoon-like device used for dispensing medicine and feeding infants. Also, a 75-year-old drug mill found in Jackson, Michigan that looks like an old coffee grinder. The shop gave away free samples of Unicap vitamins and postcard views of the shop, but what most children remember is the jars full of live leeches to remind everyone that letting a leech suck your blood was once an accepted medical practice.
Free Upjohn brochure dispensed at the Disneyland apothecary.
Upjohn left Disneyland as a sponsor in 1970.

(Upjohn has a history page about the shop, and the exhibit was described in The American Home magazine in September 1956. Disney historian Jim Korkis wrote about the shop for Mouse Planet in 2016.)


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