Get a Dose of History at the Pharmacy Museum

January 13, 2012

When newspapers revealed the notorious John Dillinger was captured in Tucson in the 1930s, a pharmacist named Jesse Hurlbut was startled to realize that Dillinger had been a patron of his drug store and pharmacy.

Now many of Hurlbut's memories of the drug store, including Dillinger's daily visits, sit in the UA's Pharmacy Museum, displayed across four floors in the College of Pharmacy building at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The collection includes more than 60,000 bottles, original drug containers, books and memorabilia like drug store fixtures from Arizona's days as a territory.

Hurlbut, a pharmacist from California, moved to Tucson and opened the Owl Drug Store in the early '30s, where he filled prescription needs and ran a lunch counter, which was patronized by Dillinger on a daily basis. He later found chewing gum Dillinger had chewed each day before lunch and then stuck under the counter, so Hurlbut scraped the pieces off and put them in a jar that is now displayed in the museum. Hurlbut scoured Arizona and the West for thousands of pharmacy items.

In 1966, the UA began displaying Hurlbut's work in the old Pharmacy/Microbiology building on the UA's main campus before moving to its current location in 1982.

Also on display are things like old pills, syringes, jars and show globes. Antique collectors are willing to pay thousands of dollars for show globes, which are vessels made of glass and filled with colored water. Stories of their origins range from ancient times, when Julius Caesar illuminated them as lamps, to the Great Plague of London, when storekeepers used them to direct the sick to their shops. Regardless of where they came from, show globes remain a colorful part of the history of pharmacy.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour through the history of pharmacy and see antiquated treasures like show globes or oddities like the jar of Dillinger's chewing gum.

The Pharmacy Museum is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 520-626-1427.