The American Drugstore by Jean Anderson

The American Drugstore by Jean Anderson

Let’s step back in time, say around 1885, and stop to shop at the W.W. Wickel Drugstore. Your prescription for amoxicillin? Some flashlight batteries? Perhaps a humorous greeting card or a box of Band-Aids. I don’t think so. How different the stock of today’s drugstore is from the store of that era.

The American drugstore can trace its roots to colonial times. Mrs. George Washington was a customer of a store in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where the leech jar was a common receptacle. Prior to the 1860s most, if not all, medical knowledge was nothing more than unsubstantiated antidotes. Many of these medications proved to be effective, but the majority were useless, or even harmful.

Thus the golden age of the American drugstore began with the introduction of scientific fact into pharmacy and medicine. It was around the 1860s when pharmacy began its journey from alchemy and conjecture to more modem scientific methods. The American pharmaceutical industry was still very young, and the majority of drugs offered came from Europe.

William Wallace Wickel purchased a small two year old pharmacy in little Naperville, Illinois, from Dr. Daniels and Dr. Morse in 1877. It was not necessary to have a pharmacy degree in that era, although I do know that he had done some sort academic study at Cornell University. All it took to become a pharmacist was an apprenticeship and the passing of an exam. By the time my grandfather took over the business in 1915, he had his degree in pharmacy from Northwestern University.

In 1877, a drug store was a hybrid business, combining the science of medicine with the merchandise carried by a general store. When customers entered Wickel’s they were met by the scent of oils and herbs.

The 19th century drug store was mixture of items that today would be found in hardware stores, decorating shops, and fabric items in addition to medicines. Wickel carried Bibles, other books, stationary, ink, wallpaper and paint, licorice sticks and penny candy, along with medicated plasters, patent medicines, homeopathic remedies, and compounded prescriptions. Many items for the local farmers needs were always stocked.

Large signs, colorful-labeled boxes, tins and cabinets were filled with medicines such as Humphries Specifics or Diamond Dyes. They were designed to encourage the customer to buy. The cabinets often had lithographed tin panel inserts on the front. Many of you will remember the lithographed panels on the Diamond Dye cabinets which had as many as eight different designs at one time or another. This company made 36 colors of fabric dye in Burlington, Vermont from 1881 to 1943! (Today some of those cabinets sell for thousands of dollars.)

A commonplace fixture of the old-time drug store were the show globes which were used much as the barber pole in the barber shop — to identify the place as a pharmacy. To the inside of these hanging or standing globes the pharmacist would add colored water by mixing chemicals to give the globe beauty. Every pharmacist had his own special coloration formula in which he took great pride, thus showing his chemical prowess. The ability to extract and mix was the sign of a competent druggist, and the show globe demonstrated his ability.

Mr. Wickel was quite up-to-date in promoting his business. Ten cent coupons were offered occasionally, and frequent ads appeared in the Naperville Clarion and the Northwestern (now North Central) College Chronicle.

Doctors prescribed what they thought their patients needed, and pharmacists made up whatever was called for. The pharmacy was equipped with mortar and pestles, balances, wooden tablet presses, glass beakers, funnels, pipettes and tubing, distilling apparatus, spatulas, and a marble ointment slab. Bottles of various shapes and sizes, many embossed with the drugstore name, as well as jars, boxes, and labels were stocked. The prescription file was a necessity.

Commonly prescribed medications were tinctures in which some organic material was the active ingredient extracted in alcohol. Solutions were substances dissolved or suspended in water, such as calamine lotion. Ointments were infused with the ingredients that the doctor ordered, the base usually being petroleum jelly that has been discovered ml 870 and patented as Vaseline in 1872. At times however, a dilute coal tar base was ordered, especially for more serious skin problems. W.W. Wickel compounded an ointment called Truitt’s Black Salve named for the local doctor who prescribed it. My grandfather and father were still compounding this medication in the 1940s and 50s!

Powders were made according to the physician’s recipe. The ingredients were ground together in the mortar and pestle, mixed thoroughly and folded into special powder papers or a small envelope. Some powders were compressed into pills, and after empty gelatin capsules became available, these also were filled with compounded powders.

Patent Medicines started the pharmaceutical industry in-the United States. These medicines were preparations that often carried various ingredients such as alcohol and claimed to cure many if not all diseases. Early drug manufacturers made formulations and marketed them under a variety of names. Sears had a large section in their catalog• devoted to the sale of patent medicines. One such remedy was “Soothing Baby Syrup” which claimed to stop your baby from crying. It was very effective, the only drawback was that the baby became an opium addict.

Very often patent medicines were called “cures” and actually claimed to cure diseases. Eventually the U.S.Government stepped in and forced the wording to be changed to “remedy”. This was to bring a level of honesty into the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the major drug companies today got their start with patent medicines. Doctors or pharmacist would set up their drug manufacturing operation without any interference. They could make any claim and engage in drug making without any credentials.

Eventually, the federal government began to restrict the manufacture of these drugs, and the pharmaceutical companies were required to prove their efficacy. It wasn’t until the I 960 that the safety as well as the efficacy was required for the product to remain on the market. There are countless patent medicines being sold today!

The discussion of patent medicines wouldn’t be complete without describing a few of them. Lydia Pinkham immediately comes to mind. She first began developing borne remedies when her husband was facing bankruptcy. Her Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was one of the best known patent medicines of the 19th century, and descendants of this product are still available today. Her skill was in marketing her product directly to women. Her face was on the label, and the testimonial of grateful women made good advertising copy.

Lydia’s Vegetable Compound varied between 15 and 20 percent alcohol, so the ladies could get a fairly good buzz from it. It was very popular with the WCTUers who didn’t have a clue. Another very popular remedy, especially with the young men,was Dr. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters. Hostetter’s Bitters were 44.3 percent alcohol —more potent than 80 proof whiskey!

Frederick Humphreys, M.D., established Doctor Humphrey’s Specific Homeopathic Medicine Company in Auburn, NY, about 1844. Homeopathy seeks to cure disease by giving the patient minute doses of drugs that produce the disease. The theory is the symptoms reveal nature’s effort to combat the disease. His business boomed. The medicines he made were numbered:#2-Worms, #3-Teething, Colic and Crying, #20-Whooping Cough, #30-Bedwetting, #34-Diptheria, etc.

He also added Witch Hazel products to his line; Marvel of Healing for internal use, and Witch Hazel Oil for external application. Witch Hazel has been used on hemorrhoids, rubbed on joints and skin disorders, consumed for sore throat, bronchial discharges, diarrhea and uterine hemorrhages, used to “sooth” the nerves and “tone” the system!

Surprisingly, many of the prominent pharmaceutical houses that are still in business today used cannabis. It was used as the primary pain reliever until the invention of aspirin that was patented in 1899. Samuel Hopkins Adkins helped expose patent medicine and medical quacks in Collier’s Weekly. His articles helped to educate the public, and in 1906 Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act.

By the time Louis Oswald bought the store from his father-in-law in 1915, great changes were taking place, and Wickel’s Drug Store became Oswald’s Pharmacy. His pride and joy was the new soda fountain, part of his modernization efforts. Yes, Coca Cola really did contain cocaine at that time!

A considerable amount of business came to the pharmacy when Prohibition arrived in 1920. Those patent medicines mentioned earlier were drawing cards with their high alcohol content. By the 1920s, prescription compounding was at its height; the wonder drugs of the late 410s and 50s were still in the future. A new drug called insulin was offered for the first time.. Cameras and cosmetics were now in stock. . Many of the Wickel items were still sold in the drug store, such as livestock remedies, paint and varnish, and as today, patent medicines.

The depression brought hard times to Naperville, but in 1930 Mr. Oswald hired a young pharmacist from Downers Grove, Harold Kester. A year later, Mr. Kester married the boss’ daughter, Helen Oswald. The hours were no different than in Mr. Wickel’s day; 7:30 AM to 11: PM, but on Saturday night the store remained open until midnight! That was the night that the farming community came to town to shop and socialize.

The business survived the great Depression, World War II, and in 2017 is still going strong in spite of the “big box” chain drug stores. It is still a compounding pharmacy, but carries a far greater spectrum of merchandise than Mr. Wickel ever imagined.

Medical Equipment Section Turns 1!

Medical Equipment Section Turns 1!

We are now entering our second year with our medical equipment expansion. Over the course of the last 12 months it has been amazing how all the extra space has allowed us to not only expand the offerings we have had for years, but also offer hundreds of new items and services.

We had rented walkers, crutches, wheelchairs and knee scooters for years, but in the last year we have added transport chairs, rollators, lift chairs, scooters and hospital beds to our rental fleet. We have doubled the space we have for our medical braces and supports, adding walking boots for ankle and foot injuries.

Don’t forget lift chairs – boy do we have lift chairs! We finally have enough space to display all the different models, fabrics and features available. Customers can try out over 20 chairs on our sales floor to find out which one suits their specific needs. The same holds true for our scooter selection. We have 10 models to try out, from a compact folding model up to large 4 wheelers.

Other new lines include Dry Pro cast protectors to allow you to enjoy swimming with just about any size or variety of cast. We have the Smart Caregiver line of patient alarms to let you know if a patient has fallen or left a bed or bedroom. We have a large selection of plantar fasciitis products from braces to the “Foot Gym”. If you haven’t stopped in lately, drop in today and check out all the new stuff!

And don’t forget to put Ozzie’s 3rd annual Health Fair on your calendar! On October 1st from 10 to 2 we will have flu shots, walker tune ups, raffles, demonstrations and our entire line of Golden lift chairs will be on sale! You can also check out our new medical equipment website here

Oswald's Delivery Fleet

Oswald's Delivery Fleet

I’m sure many of you a familiar with the Ozzie Mobile, our delivery van. We use the van to not only deliver prescriptions all over town but also to deliver lift chairs, hospital beds and other equipment all over the Chicago suburbs. This current version of the Ozzie Mobile is the latest in a long line of delivery cars stretching back to the 1950’s!

My son Alex has been using Google Photos to sort through all of the old Oswald’s photos. We have a huge collection of over 15,000 photos from my Dad, Robert Anderson, Grandpa Kester, Great Grandpa Oswald, and even a few from Great Great Grandpa Wickel! My son has used a feature on Google Photos to search by items in the pictures. So after searching for “cars” he put together a neat collage of Ozzie Mobiles throughout the years.

The first image is actually Louis Oswald’s personal car in the 1920’s. While it wasn’t officially an “Ozzie Mobile” a quick call to my mom Jean Anderson let me know that he did use his personal vehicle for Oswald’s business in the 20’s and 30’s. Mom remembers making deliveries with grandpa Oswald to Caroline Martin Mitchell (Martin Mitchell Mansion) and to the Callendars, residents of what is now Meson Sabika. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that my Grandpa Kester purchased the first of many official Ozzie Mobiles.

While our current Ozzie Mobile is the largest we’ve had over the years, it makes me think of the smallest, and not-so-favorite one we had in the 1970’s – the Ford Pinto. Anyone remember that marvelous auto? The first delivery car I drove while I was in high school was a Plymouth that had an illuminated mortar and pestle stuck to the roof.

As our DME department continues to expand and deliver more and more large in-home medical products, we’re probably looking to buy an even bigger “Ozzie Mobile” in the near future!                     To the right you can check out the pictures Alex put together. It’s already been put up on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest pages. So if you’re not following Oswalds Pharmacy on any or all of the above, make sure to check us out when you get a chance! Alex is always posting something from the archives, as well as new and exciting items in the store, events and so much more.

Naperville History Comes Alive on Ozzie's Social Media

Naperville History Comes Alive on Ozzie's Social Media

Alex here, Oswald’s resident tech guy. Not sure if you’ve been paying attention to our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram lately, but we’ve been having a lot of fun posting old Naperville photos. As a 6th generation family member working for the pharmacy, we’ve got a lot of old photos kicking around!

Keep an eye on @OswaldsPharmacy’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see what I’ve dug up from the past. In the mean time, here are some fun facts about Naperville over the years:

  • In 1900 the population was only 2,600. Today: over 146,000
  • The Edward Sanatorium opened in 1907 with 14 beds. Renamed Edward Hospital in 1955, today it has 309 beds.
  • Naperville’s first school was established in 1831 with just 22 students in a 14 foot square log cabin. Today we have over 40 public schools in districts 203 and 204 serving over 40,000 students. (pictured above is the original Naperville Community High School c.  1925)
  • Ozzie’s was one of the first Pharmacy’s to support the growing population of Naperville when we opened in 1875. While we no longer sell livestock feed and house paint, we’ve grown and changed along with Naperville. Thanks for being a loyal customer. We appreciate the opportunity to continue serving you and your family!


If you want to see weekly updates about Oswald’s, or are just in it for the historical pictures, follow us on Facebook, Twitter &  Instagram @OswaldsPharmacy or go to for links.

Help Celebrate Our 140 Birthday!

Help Celebrate Our 140 Birthday!

I hope you are reading this before October third. Because that’s when we will celebrate our 140th Anniversary all day at the store! We will have specials on both sides of the store, a free Boars Head hot dog lunch from noon to 1:30, demonstrations, samples and fun for all! There will be plenty of raffles and prize drawings. The first two hundred customers on Saturday will receive a special Ozzies Goody bag loaded with fun stuff! Don’t miss out!

As we pass this milestone I would be remiss if I didn’t take some time for reflection on the hard work and dedication that six generations of my family have put into our store. Though I never knew my great-great grandfather Wickel or great grandfather Oswald, they were able to navigate the store for it’s first 75 years. Bridging two centuries, the industrial revolution, the Great Depression and two world wars.

My grandfather, Harold Kester and father Bob Anderson took the reins for the next 40 years. Retailing and the world of medicine changed so drastically in the middle of the 20th century. They managed to keep the business in step with all the advancements in pharmacy and also were able to keep up with all the changes out front too. The store was enlarged three times to keep up with our communities growth and needs. When we made the difficult decision to move the store from Downtown to Naperville Plaza, we had that history of change and perseverance to guide us.


New Sliding Doors added to Oswald's Entry!

New Sliding Doors added to Oswald's Entry!

Come on in and see our new sliding doors. We have installed brand new Stanley sliding doors to make it more convenient for our customers, young and old to get into the store!

October third is our 140th Anniversary Party!!!! We are going to be pulling out all the stops to have a great celebration. We will have specials on both sides of the store, refreshments snacks, demonstrations, samples and fun for all! There will be plenty of raffles and prize drawings. The first two hundred customers on Saturday will receive a special Ozzies Goody bag. So put it on your calendar, it should be a wonderful day not to be missed!

Check Out our New Medical Equipment Department!

Check Out our New Medical Equipment Department!

We made it! The new Oswald’s Healthcare Shop is now open and humming along! We now have Chicagoland’s best selection of lift chairs on our sales floor – fifteen different chairs to try out! We have over twenty rolling walkers to choose from. There are three electric scooters and a power chair on display. Our bathroom safety section is full of new items ready to make your home safer and easier to navigate. Our new and expanded line of athletic and surgical braces is phenomenal. We continue to add new items on almost a daily basis. Today we got in a line of alarms that help monitor if a patient falls or exits a bed or bedroom. You place a monitor in one room and are alerted wirelessly if a patient falls or wanders out of bed. Another neat item is “The Sugar Cane”. It’s a cane that has a special four point tip so it stands by itself as well as giving superior stability. Come in soon and check the Healthcare Shop out!

And DON’T FORGET – October third is our 140th Anniversary Party!!!! We are going to be pulling out all the stops to have a great celebration. We will have specials on both sides of the store, refreshments snacks, demonstrations, samples and fun for all! There will be plenty of raffles and prize drawings. The first two hundred customers on Saturday will receive a special Ozzies Goody bag. So put it on your calendar, it should be a wonderful day not to be missed!


New Medical Equipment Department Now Open!

New Medical Equipment Department Now Open!

The build out on the new expanded Oswald’s is complete except for a couple of small items! We have been moving stock into what we have been calling our new “Healthcare Shop” for the past few days. The place looks fantastic. Make sure you stop in and take a look through the store and see our new lines and additional items that we’ve added to our shop!

Of course now that quite a bit of stock that was in the original space has been moved to the new, we have been, and will be, moving a lot around in that part of the store too. Perhaps you’ve already noticed the card department. It is about 20% larger with some new and fun card lines. Most of our core drugstore items like the analgesics, stomach aids, dental, shampoo, deodorant and first aid will be moving an aisle or so over towards the new space. We will be expanding on our jigsaw puzzle and game selection and also giving the gift department a little more breathing room. When all is said and done the store will be much easier to navigate and shop. It may take a little bit of time to get used to the new layout, so if you can’t find something just ask, and we will be happy to help you find what you need!

As we continue celebrating our 140th year in business we are planning some fun events for the Fall. On Saturday, October 3rd we will celebrate our anniversary with a grand celebration with cake, refreshments, bargains, prize drawings and much, much more! Put it on your calendar!


Medical Equipment Expansion Well Underway

Medical Equipment Expansion Well Underway

The Oswald’s 2015 expansion project is moving full steam ahead. Next time you are in the store make sure to take a peak across the way and see what we are up to. By the first week of July we should have carpeting installed, ceiling overhead and fixtures coming in and being installed. In mid July we will be adding inventory to the new space. Our lift chair selection will be expanded with around a dozen chairs on the sales floor. Our compression hosiery, walkers, wheelchairs, braces and support departments will also have new offerings.

Another neat thing will  be a bathroom display area that will include a shower, bathtub, toilet and sink! We will be able to show customers exactly how bathroom safety equipment can fit into their existing bath to help prevent slips and falls. We will also have many items on display that helps a patient with everyday tasks from sock pullers to shower chairs.

On another note we will not be having our traditional Sidewalk Sale this July. With all the commotion going on in the store with our expansion it is all hands on deck for the work inside the store. That said, it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have some great deals on overstock and discontinued merchandise! As we rearrange the store there are going to be plenty of great deals. Some of them will find their way outside on our rolling carts. The rest of the bargains will be in the center aisle across from our front cash registers

We are Expanding!

We are Expanding!

If you have noticed a little bit of commotion in the store over the last month, it’s nothing to be concerned with. We have decided to enlarge the store by taking over the old ReMax space next door. We will be cutting two large openings in the wall to allow easy access from the current sales floor to the new. The addition will add approximately 4000 square feet to the store. We will be moving all of our walkers, wheelchairs, compression hosiery, lift chairs, diabetic footwear, surgical braces and bathroom aids to the new space, which we are calling Oswald’s Healthcare right now.

We will be expanding our selection in all categories, adding new and innovative items to help anyone with mobility and health issues. We will double the amount of lift chair offerings and be adding a bathroom display center that will highlight the items that make bathing easier and safer. We will also be adding a stair lift display that will showcase the device and how it is installed. We hope to have the new space built out and ready for customers sometime in July.

What are we going to do with the space that is currently being used for the health items now? We are going to expand the greeting card section, adding some new card lines. We will also be enlarging the gift and toy areas, spreading things out a little so it’s easier to shop. Some aisles will be changing too, so if you have trouble finding something let us know and we will be happy to show you around!


140th Anniversary Prize Drawing

140th Anniversary Prize Drawing

Make sure you stop in soon to enter our first prize drawing celebrating our 140th anniversary! Top prize is a $500 Ozzies gift card with many other prizes too! You must stop int the store to enter. No purchase is necessary. Entry deadline and drawing will be held at the Girls on Gartner event, Wednesday May 6th. Get those entries in!

100 Years – Oswald's Pharmacy

100 Years – Oswald's Pharmacy

Happy February! We are already a month into 2015, a year that has a couple of  items of note for Oswald’s Pharmacy. If you look at the masthead of this month’s OzzieGram you will see that this is our 15th year sending out our two page letter with health tips, information, fun facts and of course the invaluable “Message from Bill Anderson”! We started the newsletter in 2000 to coincide with the store’s 125th anniversary. Now, fifteen years later, guess what? We will be celebrating our 140th anniversary this year!

We will be having special promotions and events throughout the year to help mark this wonderful occasion. In the Fall we will have a huge celebration at the pharmacy complete with storewide sales, prize drawings, health screenings, food, beverages, goodie bags and souvenirs!

We will be advertising the specials in the Sun in emails and on our website. The best way not to miss out on anything coming up this year will be through our emails. If you are not already signed up on our email list, make sure to sign up today! You can do so in person at the store or on our website. Also like us on Facebook and Twitter. We may be 140 years old but we definitely keep up with the times!

Another neat coincidence for 2015 is it represents the 100th year that the store has been named Oswald’s! In 1915 my great grandfather Louis Oswald purchased the store from my great-great grandfather W.W. Wickel and changed the name from Wickel’s Drugtore to Oswald’s Pharmacy.