Historic Drug Stores

      ... and the Memphis Drug Supply Houses


An establishment where pharmacy is practiced is called an apothecary, a pharmacy, chemist's, or drug store.  American Drug stores not only sell prescription drugs but also miscellaneous items like candy, cosmetics, office supplies and magazines.  In addition, most of the vintage drug stores traditionally featured a light refreshment area called "Soda Fountains".  It was a special treat to sit at the counter and have the "soda jerk" prepare a soda  or ice cream sundae, especially for you.  The fountain-area of a drug store was indispensable in the heat of the summer.  During the turn of the century, Memphis had several well-known drug stores in the downtown area - Moseley-Robinson and Pantaze.  During one period of time, Pantaze was featured almost on every corner.    And all neighborhoods had their own family-run drug stores, where you knew the druggist by his first name.


During this same period Memphis was the leader in the wholesale drug market and took great pride in being home to several of the largest drug supply houses in the United States.  The names of the drug supply houses were prominently displayed on many buildings in downtown Memphis, generally on Main Street.  They all gave employment to many Memphians.   Among the earliest company's were the S. Mansfield Drug Co and Van Vleet Drugs.  There were also  Hessig-Ellis, Tri-Tone Drug Co, Memphis Drug Co, and later, a major player,  Plough Inc. 



Click on the small photos to see an enlargement.


Fortune-Ward Drug Co  .  279 1/2 Main   .  9 N. Main  .  111 Madison Av


Thomas Preston Fortune sold his first drugstore in Hickman, KY and moved to Memphis in 1883, where he opened a drug store in the Gayoso Hotel.  Then, in partnership with Mr. Ward, they moved to 9 North Main, across from Court Square - where the Kress building is today.    During the hot summer evenings, there were concerts at Court Square's bandstand and folks drove in from all around in their buggies.  After the concerts everyone went across the street to Fortune-Ward Drug Store for an ice cream or cooling soda.  The crowds were so large that there wasn't enough room inside the store.  So  Fortune's son Harold recognized a bonanza and simply started serving outside. 

And in 1906 that's where the world's first "curb service" began ... right at Memphis' Court Square...

Rx Bottle

Fortune Ice Cream

1st curb Serv

Ice Cream lid

New Bldg

Soda Fountain


Fortune's sign

By 1914,  Fortune-Ward moved to a new location at 111 Madison Av.  Curb service continued and became even more popular - so much so that the Police asked Fortune not to advertise.   But there were still traffic jams waiting for curb service.  To solve this problem, Harold Fortune opened a place on Union-Somerville in 1920.  And another In 1924 at Union and Waldran - near Central High.  The students swarmed in after school.  In the evening, an older crowd came.  Harold sold the drug business in 1933, but kept the fountain and grill, naming it Fortune's Jungle Garden.   Curb service was still available but now it had become the world's first "Drive in".  And yes, they did manufacture their own ice cream - and sold it to other drug stores as well.


Fortune's Jungle Garden Fortune's Jungle Garden Fortune's Jungle Garden

Fortune's card


F-W Fountain Gayoso Hotel Fortune-Ward Ad 1898 Rx Bottle F-W Sticker

Fortune's Tray


Hamner-Ballard Drugs  .  299 Main .  13-15 S. Main


The Hamner-Ballard Drug Store dates from 1895 and they remained at the same Main Street address for the next 26 years.  The original address was 299 Main, next to the Peabody Hotel.  When the numbering system changed in 1905, it became 13-15 S. Main.  This was one of the first Drug Stores to realize that there's more money in the soda fountain than in prescription drugs.  But this store had "real class" with beautiful marble counters and marble and brass soda dispensers.  Plus they had a Tea Room in the rear - a quiet, subdued place to enjoy your afternoon tea while listening to  live orchestra music every afternoon from 3 to 6.   Even a major fire in 1911 didn't put a damper on this popular meeting place.



Classy Soda Fountain

H-B Tea Pot

H-B Tea

Fire 1911    





Hamner-Ballard Bottle

Hamner-Ballard Bottle


Battier's Drugs  .  209-11 Beale Street


Battier's was a well known Memphis Drug Store which owes a great deal of its fame to the famous Hooks Brothers photo taken in 1906.  The store, at 290 Beale, was in continuous operation from 1896 to 1960.  Because it was open all night, it was considered an unofficial emergency room for those injured in an excess of Beale Street revelry.  Abe Plough purchased the store in 1914 and it was renamed Pantaze in 1929.  The all night policy and the unofficial emergency room status continued until 1960.  When Beale was "re-developed", this building was the first to be renovated.  The upper floors had been home to the Mitchell Hotel and Club Handy

Battier Drugs

RX Bottle


Pantaze Drugs  .  7 Downtown Locations


The old saying "... one on every corner" must have originated with Pantaze Drugs.  At one time there were 7 of them in downtown Memphis:  Main at Calhoun, Main at Jefferson, Main at Madison, Main at Union,  Main at Monroe, Main at Beale, Hernando at Beale.  The history of Pantaze Drugs is currently not available.


Main at Monroe

Main-Monroe Fountain

Main at Calhoun

Main at Beale


Main at Madison

Main at Madison

Main at Madison

Main at Madison        


We're Searching!

                  Main at Union

Beale at Hernando

Beale at Hernando

Beale at Hernando



Moseley-Robinson Drugs  .  105 S. Main  .  2-4 Main at Madison


The Moseley-Robinson Drug Co opened about 1907.  The original store had been organized by Wiley Jones Cox in 1905 as Moseley-Robinson-Cox Drug Co.  The next year Cox sold his interest to his partner, Thomas Aubrey Robinson, who dropped Cox from the name.  The "Moseley" was in honor of his wife's family.  From 1907 to 1914 there was a Moseley Robinson Drugs at 105 S. Main, near Goldsmiths.  In 1910, they added a 2nd store at 2-4 N. Main, corner of Main and Madison.  That store lasted until 1958.  Today, the building is still there and has been occupied by Walgreen's since 1959. 


105 S. Main . 1924

105 S. Main . 1943

105 S. Main . 1943


105 S. Main . Today


Moseley-Robinson 1940

Main-Madison 1915

Main-Madison 1912




Fountain Area 1940

Fountain Area 1912

Moseley-Robinson Menu

M-R Menu

Rx Bottles


James S. Robinson Apothecary  .   22 North Second


The James S. Robinson Apothecary was one of the oldest pharmacies in Memphis.  It began doing business during the Civil War and remained in business through the early twentieth century.  Mr. Robinson came to Memphis from Pennsylvania and opened his first store in 1869.  During the yellow fever epidemics of the 1870s, he endeared himself to Memphians by keeping his drugstore open.  Robinson's Apothecary is about the only Drug Store in town that wanted no part of the popular soda fountains.  After his death in 1929, his daughter Mary continued the business.  It was sold in 1965 to pharmacists who eventually dropped the Robinson name.  The Robinson Apothecary Building is still standing.  It has been renovated into high-end business offices and the building is now named - The Apothecary.


22 N. 2nd . 1943

James S. Robinson


22 N. 2nd Today

Prescription Ledger


Heroin Bottle




Rx Bottle

Rx Bottle


1901 Billhead




Vintage Labels

Labels 1890s


Doughty-Robinson Drugs  .  1083 Union Av  and other locations


Lorenzo Doughty and Andrew Robinson opened their first store  in 1923.  Soon afterwards they opened branches on Union, Chelsea, Jefferson, Lamar, Madison, North Parkway, Poplar, and Summer.  All of their stores had soda fountains which made them a neighborhood favorite.  But by 1953 the store at 1083 Union was the only one remaining, and it closed in 1954.  Many of their buildings are still around and the store at 1635 Union is still being used by Wiles-Smith Drug Store, which is thought to be the ONLY  Memphis drug store, which still has a soda fountain. 

D-R at Gayoso Hotel        

Walgreen's  .  Numerous locations...


Pantaze was originally the dominant Drug Store Chain in Memphis and Walgreen's probably holds that record now, but CVS is pushing it.  Many of the choice locations and buildings in the downtown area that were occupied by Pantaze Drugs are now occupied by Walgreen's.  They began moving in during the late 1930s.  Today Walgreen's "super stores" are in virtually every neighborhood.  The super Walgreen's and the new "contender" CVS will not be covered on this page.  


Main at Union . 1951

Main at Union . 1950s

Main at Madison . 1960

   Main-Madison . today



The Historic Neighborhood Drug Stores

The old Corner Drug Store brings to mind a kind of nostalgic reflection of days gone by. It was a time when everyone had a strong allegiance to their neighborhood drugstore, which was invariably located on a prominent corner and was owned and operated by a local pharmacist who cared about the community.  He and his family probably lived upstairs.   His store was a place where you could get almost anything - from friendly conversation to items like magazines, greeting cards, cosmetics, and film.  The pharmacist knew everyone by name - in fact, he knew everything.  And it wasn't unusual for him to open the store in the middle of the night to fill an emergency prescription. 


The heart of the corner drug store was the soda fountain with a counter where you could sit and have a "cherry coke", ice cream sundae, milkshake, or even an egg salad sandwich.  The soda fountain became the gathering place where teenagers could socialize.  Everybody knew everybody.  Sit there for a short time and several of your friends would come in.   Yes, the old corner drug store was surely a prescription for happiness.   Do you remember?


Purdy-Jester Drug Store

2129 Madison at Cooper

Nov 27, 1974:  After 46 years of business, the store's equipment and effects are auctioned off.  Purdy and his partner, Thomas Jester, lost the store's lease three months ago do to the expansion of Overton Square.  Webmaster Gene Gill has a fondness for this drug store's soda fountain.  His first job as a soda jerk was here in 1946 earning 25 cents an hour.

Paris Drug Store
Poplar at Evergreen



S. S. Drug Store

Poplar and High Streets


Wilson Drug Store

Beale Street


South Memphis Drug Co
909 Florida Street

The South Memphis Drug Co is listed in the 1917 Memphis Directory and continues up to at least 1948.  In this photo, the Memphis Red Sox owners stand in front of the Drug Store, circa 1930s.

Ray Moran Drugs

865 Kerr


Your recommendations will be added ONLY if you send a high resolution JPEG photo .  gene.gill@verizon.net

Wiles-Smith Drug Store

1635 Union Av.

At the turn of the 20th century, The American trend for soda fountains inside a pharmacy began to emerge at the turn of the 20th century.  By the 1920s almost every drug store in the US had a soda fountain.  It became a social hub.  The tradition died around the 1970's when fast food stores became more popular.  Wiles-Smith Drug Store with its original soda fountain, keeps this tradition alive.  It is the only remaining fountain in Memphis.

Reeves DrugStore

1705 Lamar



Katz Drug Store
Lamar-Airways Shopping Center

The FIRST Katz Drugs in Memphis  ... 1954

White Way Drugs
Cleveland & Overton


Abe Plough owned the White Way Drugs from 1929.


Drug Store
1084 Thomas



The Dixie was in business during the 20s and 30s.  It was Owned by Frances Freedman, one of the earliest women pharmacists in Memphis.

Sheehan's Pharmacy

1292 Madison


From 1910-1936 .  The vintage building is still there including the mosaic tile entrance at the doorway.


Your recommendations will be added ONLY if you send a high resolution JPEG photo .  gene.gill@verizon.net

Liggett's Drug Store

Jefferson and Main Street


Cardwell Drug Store

Cleveland and Watkins



Cowles Drug Store
664 Main Street



Cowles Drugs was located across from Central Station in 1902.  The building is still there today.


Ballin Drug Store
Poplar - Evergreen




Drug Store



Prescott Drug Store

1430 S. Bellevue Av


Opened 1951 ... Closed 7-1995 .  Thanks Jack Walker

Your recommendations will be added ONLY if you send a high resolution JPEG photo .  gene.gill@verizon.net

Drug Store



Drug Store




Your recommendations will be added ONLY if you send a high resolution JPEG photo .  gene.gill@verizon.net


"Memphis is a Good Town for Soda Fountains..."

This interesting article about the Soda Fountains in the Memphis Drug Stores was published in "The Druggists Circular" Magazine,  April 1912  >


Page 1

Page 2




The Memphis Drug Supply Houses


As the gateway to the mid-South and the great Southwest, Memphis was favored with a superb location.  This location was instrumental in attracting diverse manufacturers to consider the city for their distribution centers.  Many of them did establish manufacturing and distribution warehouses mostly around South Main Street to be near railroads and the river traffic.  Quite a few of these companies were wholesale drug companies which led Memphis to become a dominant force in the manufacturing-distribution of drugs in the United States. 





S. Mansfield Drug Co


Samuel Mansfield began as an apothecary in Memphis in 1840.  Around 1870 he partnered with Hugh H. Higbee to manufacture medicines. These included Mansfield's Hungarian Balsam for the Lungs, Mansfield's Eclectic Pile Salve and Mansfield's Mississippi Diarrhea Cordial.  But the major product sold by Mansfield's Company was the "La Creole" line of hair dressings.  This preparation was originally called the "Louisiana Creole Hair Restorer".  S. Mansfield Drug Co was always located on Main Street.  The earliest address was 301-303 Main from 1876-1880.  In 1882 he moved to 334 Main and 2 years later to 296 Main.  Around 1895 the Drug Co was acquired by Van Vleet Drugs and the La Creole products became a major line for the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co.


334 Main . 1888


Med Book


Ad   Rx Btl



La Creole



Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co


As the leader in the wholesale drug market Memphis took great pride in being the home to Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co., one of the largest drug firms in the United States, The name of this firm became a household word throughout the South.  Peter Van Vleet, president of the company, was the guiding spirit behind the name.  He was born in Michigan in 1849 and came to Memphis in 1871 where his life became a series of successes, which culminated in the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. 


At the beginning he worked
as a drug clerk for fourteen years, and established his own wholesale drug firm called Van Vleet & Co. in 1884.   He enjoyed 10 prosperous years of business and then merged with three local wholesale drug companies and established the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. around 1895.  He created this colossal pattern of success through  his guidance and by his service-driven attitude.  The result was one of the largest and most progressive wholesale drug companies in the country. 

Peter Van Vleet  

In 1866 Van Vleet & Company were located at 361 Main - almost next door to the Mansfield Drug Co.  After the 1895 merger with Mansfield the firm moved to  322-324 Main (The re-numbering of Main Street changed the address to 48-54 S. Main in 1905 - the address where the Pantages-Warner Theatre will be built in 1920).  The firm occupied all 6 floors of the building and employed 175 full-time employees.  They also maintained a warehouse on Monroe. 


48-54 Main

48-54 Main . 1906


Van Vleet Drugs 1910


Receipt 1898

La Creole



Hair Products


1883 Ad

LaCreole compact 1901 Ad Trade Card 1890s String Holder Envelope 1888

Calendar 1916

1919 Ad 1890 Envelope 1900s Tape Measure  Bottle

Van Vleet Tray


Mercury Jug      

La Creole 1917


The Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug company remained at the 48-54 Main Street address until 1917.  They had been building their new building on the corner of Second and Gayoso and moved in upon its completion.   In 1929 the company merged with McKesson-Robbins and the new company continued to use the 2nd and Gayoso building until the 1980s.


1927 .  Van Vleet-Mansfield envelope

For over 30 years the Van-Vleet building was The Fulmer Companies headquarters and distribution center. This historic building has recently been completely renovated into a mixed-use facility with 60 loft apartments and 15,000 sq ft of commercial space .  It is now called "Van Vleet Flats".

Van Vleet Flats . today

Peter Van Vleet has comprehensive coverage on another page:  Click Here  


Hessig-Ellis Drug Co


Robert R. Ellis


107 S. Main


H-E ad

Q-Ban ad

Packing Crate


Robert R. Ellis  (1878 -1930) was President of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce and had spearheaded the Auditorium project.  A native of West Point, Mississippi, he became a trained Pharmacist and drug store owner, moved to Memphis and founded the Hessig-Ellis Drug Company.  After a merger with Van Vleet Drugs the name changed to Van Vleet-Ellis Drugs, Inc.  After his death in 1930, the Memphis Auditorium was renamed "Ellis Auditorium" .  From around 1900-1915 Hessig-Ellis was at 107-111 S. Main (the Woolworth  Building, which still exists).  Around 1915 they moved to their new 8 storey building at S. Front St and McCall Place. 


The number one product at Hessig-Ellis was Q-Ban Hair Restorer.  It was advertised internationally in all the important magazines.  And it was "guaranteed".  This resulted in a number of lawsuits for the company.   (Today, the Q-Ban Hair Product is in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History).  The company was involved in additional lawsuits because they set up a totally fictitious "black-owned" company (Golden Brown Chemical Co), run by the fictitious Madame Mamie Hightower, to market products exclusively to African Americans.


Ad . 1922 Q-Ban ad Golden Brown ad Golden Brown ad Mme. Hightower Ointment Q-Ban 1920 article

Q-Ban Ad  

1919 Ad

1923 Catalog



Btl Ginger



Tri-Tone Drug Manufacturing Co 


The Tri-Tone Drug Manufacturing Co was established about 1909 at 422 S. Main.  Their trade increased tremendously and they added another plant at 289 Madison Av and a branch in Ancon, Republic of Panama.  Their main products were well-known laxatives - Lax-Ana and Kin-Lax.  The plant also stocked the Kincannon's Stomach Powder and Jopling's Perfumes and Toilet Waters.  Their beautiful Beaux Arts building at 422 S. Main now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.


Tri-Tone ad 1911


289 Madison

289 - today

Laxative ad


Lax 1906



Kin Lax


422 S. Main - today



Memphis Drug Co


The Memphis Drug Co was organized in 1903 and located at 83 South 2nd Street, across from the Peabody Hotel.  They were there a long time - up to 1920.  In 1921 they moved to 120 N. Front.  Virtually no other information is currently available on this company.

  Organized 1903 83 S. 2nd . 1950s

83 S. 2nd . today





W. T. Rawleigh Co. 


The W. T. Rawleigh Company of Freeport, Illinois, was one of the country's largest producers of patent medicines, cosmetics, insecticides, and spices.  They were hugely successful and are still in business.  The Rawleigh Company opened  the Memphis factory at Illinois and Pennsylvania in 1912 and it was the largest Rawleigh manufacturing plant in the country.  The building is still standing, although now abandoned.  W. T. Rawleigh was noted for their traveling salesmen who would leave "free trials", knowing that the products would sell themselves.


W. T. Rawleigh W. T. Rawleigh W. T. Rawleigh . today Book Medicine Wagon



Horse Dip


Horse Tonic





Plough Inc.


In 1908, Abe Plough borrowed $125 from his father to start his own business, the Plough Chemical Company.  With the money, he created his first product "Plough's Antiseptic Healing Oil" in a small room above his father's store and set out in his father's horse-drawn buggy to sell the product.  Success was almost immediate.  Within two years his business doubled and he entered the patent drug business and branched out into cosmetics.  In 1920 he added aspirin to the line when he bought the St. Joseph Company.  In 1967 he purchased Maybelline Cosmetics.  The famous products associated with Plough Inc. are legendary. 


Early in his career, Plough purchased the old Battier's Drug Store on Beale Street, with an idea to start a chain of stores where he could sell his products.  The store was renamed Pantaze Drugs and it was the first of many in the Memphis area.  By the late 1930's he had given up the notion of owning his own drug stores and began leasing the stores to Walgreen's, a major Plough client.  In 1947 the Main-Union Walgreen's burned.  Owner Abe Plough and Plough Broadcasting combined to build a new structure called "Radio Center".  Station WMPS used the top floors and Walgreen's used the ground floor.  That building has recently been renovated and is now called "Radio Flats".


Battiers Drug

Beale at Hernando

Black-White Powder

St. Joseph Aspirin Maybelline


Mexsana Moroline Olive Tablets Spiro Pantaz Tablets

Abe Plough retired in 1976 to devote his energies to philanthropy. His generosity to the community is legendary. His many gifts were often made as "challenge grants,"... "to help the greatest number of people in order to do the most good." The Plough Foundation is devoted to the welfare of the community and is administered in his name by his heirs. 
In 1971 Plough Inc merged with the Schering Corporation, becoming Schering-Plough.  In 2009 Schering-Plough merged with Merck & Co.






The Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. built their new building on the corner of Second and Gayoso and moved in upon its completion in 1917.   Van Vleet merged with McKesson-Robbins around 1929 and the McKesson-Robbins name went on the building, where it remained until the 1980s.  Mckesson-Robbins was founded in New York City in 1833 as Olcott & McKesson, an importer and wholesaler of botanical drugs.   A third partner, Daniel Robbins joined the firm and the name became McKesson-Robbins in 1853.  In 1855 the company became one of the first wholesale firms to actually manufacture drugs.  They also began to expand and have branches in many cities.  Memphis was one of those cities.    Today, the company is known as "McKesson Inc" and is one of the oldest continually operating businesses in the United States. 


McKesson wagon

M-B Bldg . 1950s

M-K Bldg . Today

McKesson Stock



Vintage  Rx

Tawn Talc

Boric Acid

... in every Medicine Cabinet

Delivery Trucks



W. N. Wilkerson & Co


W. N. Wilkerson & Co was in business from as early as 1864 up to 1921.  During this 57 year period the firm was located for a very long time at 334 Main.  In 1902, the business on Main Street was sold and by 1904 W. N. apparently opened another wholesale drug business, W. N. Wilkerson & Son, at 117-119 Union.  They were at this location for 7 years and then moved to 324-328  S. Front for many years.   When a business is productive this long and maintains an active listing in the Memphis directories, you would expect to find some information about them.  There's just  no information available. 


334 Main . 1888

117-119 Union Av

324-328 S. Front

1880 Trade Card

Sale 1902



1882 Ad   RX Bottle   Goodspeed Article


Ellis-Jones Drug Co 


The Ellis-Jones Drug Co started as the Ellis Lilybeck Drug Co around 1912.  They were located at 157 Union Av.  In 1915 the name changed to Ellis Jones Drug Co and the following year they moved to a new building at 110-120 Court Avenue, remaining there through 1924.  Virtually no other information is currently available.  It's not known at this time if the "Ellis" in the name is the same as in Hessig-Ellis. 


Building 1907

157 Union . 1915 Envelope 1907 Letter 1915 Rx Jug

New Bldg 1915



Today, four of the world's top Pharmaceutical companies have major operations in Memphis







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