19th Century Pharmacy

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To late 19th century Pharmacists Charles Tatum was a hero; he patented the machine shown here. What is it? This is a suppository and pill maker.

Suppository Machine in collections

Early day pharmacy in the US was subject to very little regulation and standardization regarding chemical formulae.  It was common practice for pharmacists, chemists, and others to prepare compounds by hand. It was a little bit like cooking from scratch and usually involved the use of a mortar and pestle. Then it was necessary to bind those chemicals with water or other liquids, or gum-like substances such as acacia or tragacanth and mold them into a useable form.

Charles Tatum patented this machine in 1895. He was a descendent and co-owner of Whitall Tatum, a company founded in 1806 in Millville, New Jersey, primarily known for making glass bottles, jars, and vials. They mass produced special orders for hundreds of pharmacies and embossed “W.T. & Co.” on the base.

Tatum understood the frustration of pharmacists and the old method of melting ingredients.  The end products were hard to keep together were almost never consistence in size. Tatum set about to build a machine that would ensure uniform product. The original price of his machine and various sized molds was $13.00.

Suppository Patent Drawing
Suppository patent drawing

After a pharmacist thoroughly mixed the mass, he placed it in the cylinder of the machine that runs along the top.  One of the brass molds was screwed in and the metal piece on the chain was pressed up against the mold. A few turns of the wheel compressed the compound.  Releasing the metal piece, he could extrude a solid and smooth suppository in various sizes.  There are also small molds that formed pill mass into small rods that could be cut into tablets.

Modern suppository and pill maker manufacturers can tip their hat to Charles Tatum and his genius.

Dick Bodine donated this item to the Sheridan County Museum in 2013.  He obtained it at a local sale but there was no information on the pharmacy where it would have been used.

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