When you hear the word “apothecary” these days, you probably think of cosmetic brands like us or of medieval “doctors” brewing up some fresh pseudo-science potions to cure vague, undiagnosed illnesses. Both of those things are definitely real and part of the history of the craft, but it actually dates back even farther. Apothecaries can date their history all the way back to ancient Babylon, where clay tablets have been found detailing medical symptoms and what to prescribe for it.
This is likely what you think of as an apothecary. Throughout the Middle Ages, apothecaries were a popular source of remedies, and they often worked jointly with physicians to supply any medicine that was needed. They even took on apprentices because medical students could become surgeon-apothecaries without going to university! Ah, simpler times.
Apothecaries remained popular until long after the American Revolution. There was even a time where the good ole U.S. of A had an Apothecary General as an official position! His name was Andrew Craigie, and he was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Though the Army stopped utilizing the Apothecary title in 1821, the form of business remained common until the late 19th century.
Eventually, with the Industrial Revolution unfolding and technology advancing, the fizzy elixir makers of old became obsolete. Drug manufacturing became an industrialized, mass produced process that apothecaries simply couldn’t keep up with, and it was probably for the best anyways. This was a time when a surgeon’s tools were labeled “clean” instead of “sterile”, so a little modernization was long overdue. Apothecaries weren’t dead though, not at all. They just needed to evolve.