The Story of the Upjohn Pharmacy at Disneyland

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

When Disneyland opened in July 1955, many shops on Main Street U.S.A. would have been familiar to turn-of-the-century residents. Both the exterior and interior of these stores captured the spirit of the time period 1890 through 1910 and provided a gentle transition to the Hub where guests could explore new lands.

Lessees are today known at Disney as operating participants. General Manager C.V. Wood was the person responsible for getting a variety of companies to lease space inside the park and even pay to create their own exhibits and buy the furnishings.

This was much more difficult in the mid-1950s to try to convince prominent companies that it made sense to advertise in an amusement park in the middle of nowhere. By the time, Epcot Center opened in 1982, companies saw sponsoring an exhibit or having a store to be a "billboard" that would be seen by thousands of people and who would associate their name with the magic experience they had at the Disney theme park.

These companies would have to buy a fixed five year lease and pay the first and last year upon signing so Walt could use that money to help build his park. Disney would build the shop structures and exterior ornamentation.

Each company like Coca-Cola and Swift agreed to lease space at Disneyland with an annual rent of twenty dollars per square foot on Main Street and fifteen dollars per square foot in all the other lands. Lessees were expected to pay this minimum fee and a percentage of their profits above that fee.

They also had to pay their own construction costs for the interior, as well as pay their own staff salaries.

From the Disneyland Inc. Supplementary Specifications for Lessees:

"All interior architectural drawings are to be done by a competent registered architect or approved display house of lessee's choice. All designs submitted by lessee's architect whether the buildings or construction of interiors in Disneyland must be approved as to the theme and general plan of Disneyland as established by WED Enterprises. Three sets of preliminary drawings are to be furnished to Disneyland Inc. as soon as possible after signing of the lease. Two sets are retained by Disneyland and one set is returned to the lessee's architect with any revisions."

Eastman Kodak paid roughly $28,000 upfront to lease shop space, Upjohn initially $29,000, Kaiser Aluminum $37,500 (with the added assurance that aluminum would be used extensively throughout the park like the bumpers on the Autopia cars and on the Clock of the World), while TWA and Richfield Oil each paid $45,000.

"All the lessees were there because they knew they could make a profit from their individual businesses in the Park," remembered Pete Clark who was involved with Participant Affairs for 36 years. "The larger sponsors were there to showcase their product, to showcase their services".

Walt was good friends with Donald S. Gilmore, chairman of the board and managing director of Upjohn. They both had vacation homes at the Smoke Tree Ranch property in Palm Springs, California.

Eighty tickets for the July 17 opening day event were given to West Coast Upjohn people and their families. On that day, two ribbons were cut in front of the entrance. One by Upjohn Sales Director Fred Allen representing Upjohn and the other by four men who were top officers in the California State Pharmacists Association.

The Upjohn Pharmacy on Main Street U.S.A. wasn't a working pharmacy, but rather a homage to the turn-of-the-century pharmacies.

Disney initially designed the interior as it did for other lessees. When Upjohn saw the mock-up, they protested, saying that Disney's design did not reflect the layout of old-time drugstores. Upjohn then hired the famous Will Burtin to design the store. The building was ultimately constructed according to Burtin's plans.

The front half of the store had a reproduction of an old-time apothecary shop based on three New York pharmacies that were in existence before 1886. In the back was a contemporary display with four revolving photo columns showing phases of present-day manufacturing, as well as a large aerial photo, on a nearby wall, of its Portage plant with descriptive captions.

Two clerks and two registered pharmacists worked the store overseen by manager Leo Austin. The final rental cost turned out to be $37,720 per year, significantly over the initial estimate. The shop did not sell anything because it did not want to be in conflict with local pharmacies.

Of course, it was not a real pharmacy even though two real pharmacists (Fredrick August Eckstein and Philip Milton Harvey) were in the shop and dressed in period costumes. It hosted an exhibition which traced the origins of pharmacy back to its early beginnings. It included apothecary jars, show globes, scales, and other equipment commonly used in drugstores of that period.

The shop gave away free postcards, as well as a free square miniature glass bottle of orange-colored Unicap Vitamins, inside a red box a white silhouette of the Disneyland castle logo containing a description pamphlet stating "A Souvenir of Disneyland Upjohn" with a history of Upjohn. The bottle was an 1 1/2-inches tall and contained 12 vitamins with an expiration date.

From The Overflow, the monthly Upjohn sales magazine, April 1955:

"But Upjohn is in the drug, not the entertainment business, so the inclusion of the Company sponsored drugstore may seem a bit unique and illogical. Our only reason for sponsoring the store is that its presence in Disneyland constitutes sound, inexpensive, advertising with exciting possibilities. As Disney reaps the profits of his latest work, Upjohn will get full advertising value.

"Furthermore, none of our competitors may sponsor an exhibition unless they either get our permission or sponsor the million dollar Disney TV show. Why does the drugstore constitute good advertising? Of primary importance is the fact that it will be seen by the public. Secondarily, it's inexpensive.

"Year after year, Disneyland will present the name Upjohn to the public, much as an ad in Life presents the Company's name. But an ad in Life does the job once. Disneyland does it many times. The cost? Once construction is finished, the annual costs will be about the same as one page in one issue of Life. How many people will see Disneyland? Present estimates indicate that six million people will see Disney's fairyland every year.

"It's a new form of advertising, but Board Chairman Donald Gilmore and Advertising Manager Jack Gauntlett have expressed enthusiasm concerning it. All of the sponsors in Disneyland will be top-flight Companies."

Dr. Garrard MacLeod, editor of Scope magazine (pharmaceutical information) and an "antiquer" by avocation, helped in the historical research and the procurement of the some nearly one thousand authentic pieces of apothecary equipment.

The stove from 1900 was found in a New Jersey shop. The leaded glass chandeliers came from the attic of a Kalamazoo druggist who bought them in the 1890s and used them in his shop until 1918. A collection of antique microscopes dating back to the 1700s were purchased from a New York collector. Dr. MacLeod fixed some of the parts so that each was usable and vintage slides were included for guests to view. There was a collection of syringes dating from 1850.

Interestingly, there was a glass jar of live leeches on display. At the turn of the century, they were used to draw blood from infected parts of the body.

Many of the artifacts from the Upjohn Disneyland Pharmacy are in the Pharmacy Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The University received the Upjohn Disneyland collection in 2006 from the California Museum of Science and Industry (now called the California Science Center). The exhibit was designed using old photographs and primary documents to recreate the original back-counter display as faithfully as possible.

It is located in the lobby of the third floor of Drachman Hall and includes the seven panel custom-built case made for Disneyland. Also on display from the Disneyland shop is the bust of Hippocrates which was originally from the personal collection of Dr. Upjohn himself

Here is the text from the free 16-page pamphlet given to Disneyland guests titled: The Upjohn Drugstore in Disneyland

"A Bit of History. The Upjohn Pharmacy on Disneyland's Main Street has little if anything in common with your own Main Street drugstore. And Main Street, Disneyland, is quite unlike today's "Main Street USA". The visitor strolling along the picturesque thoroughfare finds himself in the Victorian setting of an average town in the 1880s.

"Here are the Crystal Arcade and the quaint Opera House; the horse-drawn fire wagons and street cars; the policemen, conductors and tradesmen in period dress. Moans and groans help you locate the dentist's office. A glamorous past has been faithfully recreated. And here, at the intersection of Main and Center Streets, stands the Upjohn Pharmacy.

"The pharmacy adds its note of realism to Disney's nineteenth century scene. It is also one of the most elaborate museums of authentic pharmaceutical wares, furnishings and equipment in existence. Well over 1000 antiques were collected by the personnel of the Upjohn Company, in a search that took them to auctions, attics, old pharmacies, dealers and historians in New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, South Carolina, Michigan and New Jersey. The showcases, fans, counters and other equipment were designed by experts and faithfully reproduced.

"The building which houses the store, like the other neighboring structures on Main Street, is typically 1880. The Upjohn Pharmacy is both something new and ancient - new to this generation of Americans accustomed to the sight of gay colors, streamlined design, shiny chrome, but familiar to those who still remember the apothecary of our forefathers.

"Message of the Past. Nearly all the items on display in the pharmacy have a story to tell…interesting bits of information that convey the romance of days gone by.

"The colorful mortar and pestle sign mounted above the main entrance once adorned a nineteenth century establishment in Philadelphia -- but was recovered in Charleston. Its remarkable coloring, best seen at night, is achieved by the use of red and blue leaded glass. The Upjohn name replaces that of the original owner on the mortar's top band. The White Rx sign, emblem of pharmacy, is projected on the sidewalk through the bottom of the mortar.

"Inside the store, look for the 75-year-old drug mill found among collectors' items in Jackson, Michigan. Bearing a close resemblance to the quaint old coffee grinder of a few years back, the mill was once used to grind crude drugs, prior to compounding them into prescriptions. Before the pharmacy was opened to the public, sassafras bark was put through the mill to give the store its typical old drugstore aroma. Among the remnants of an old pharmacy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, searchers found the twelve leaded glass chandeliers which provide the lighting for the Upjohn store. These fixtures, made in Germany in the 1890s are beautifully preserved despite their age.

"More than 100 items were purchased from an antique dealer in Charleston, South Carolina. Outstanding among these pieces is an 1840 pharmacist's balance which now stands behind the prescription counter. The base of the balance is made of marble, the gold-decorated pillar of white porcelain, and the balance proper is silver-plated brass. Proof marks for fair weight testing date it back to an 1840 French prescription counter. From the same collection comes a black Wedgwood bust (circa 1800) of the third century physician Hippocrates, author of the oath of ethics still taken today by most medical graduates.

"The contents of the showcases, most of them in their original packages, were once part of the stock of Morgan's Pharmacy in Philadelphia. Cosmetics dating from 1900 and earlier, all types of sickroom stoves, bed warmers and atomizers, and a home medicine chest are typical of the supplies the druggist maintained for his customers. Doctors' nebulizers, syringes and Lister sprays (marking early attempts at antiseptic surgery) were sold directly to the medical profession.

"Among the early symbols of pharmacy were the mortar and pestle. Those in the Upjohn collection are made of glass, china, iron, wood and brass, the oldest dating from 1575 and most recent from 1950. The antique microscopes also displayed, date from the period 1700-1880 and each is accompanied by microscopic slides of that time. Of special interest in this group is a wood and paper microscope, still in good working order, made in the year 1700.

"The list of exhibits is a long one: earthenware candlesticks shaped like lions, from an 1850 French pharmacy; leech glasses from the days when leeches were used to draw blood from infected areas of the body; French and Spanish porcelain pharmacy jars from European prescription counters of 1850 and 1875; and herbs, barks, extracts, powders, granules and grindings of all descriptions. "All this - plus the skill and knowledge of the druggist - tells the story of pharmacy in the nineteenth century. It is the story of many lives saved and of man's constant search for better health. Adding to the realism of this scene, registered pharmacists in clothing of the period are on duty to answer questions from visitors. Upjohn's old-fashioned drugstore is not a retail outlet for pharmaceuticals. It is a museum: a living tribute to the rich heritage of the American druggist.

"Pharmacy Today. Providing a dramatic contrast between 19th and 20th century pharmacy, a modern showroom adjoins the store. In it are displayed many of the present-day products of The Upjohn Company. More than 800 medicines, produced at Upjohn's new ultra-modern plant in Kalamazoo -- one of the world's largest - offer proof of pharmaceutical and medical progress undreamed of in 1880.

"Modern production methods and facilities, rigid quality controls, backed by unending research carried out in the building complex shown at right, have enabled Upjohn to gain and hold the confidence of the professions of medicine and pharmacy, and of the public at large. Were he alive today, the founder of The Upjohn Company, Dr. W.E. Upjohn, would be proudest, we believe, of the way the more than four thousand Upjohn employees are still adhering strictly to his 1886 mandate to "Keep The Quality Up.'"

Walt visited Kalamazoo, Michigan, from September 17-20, 1964 on his way from Washington, D.C., where he received the Congressional Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson (September 14, 1964). While there, he stayed with his friend Donald S. Gilmore, chairman of the board and managing director of Upjohn.

When Walt arrived, he wore on his suit lapel a flicker souvenir button from Disneyland. One image showed the face of Goofy while the other the phrase "I'm Goofy About Disneyland". He pinned extras on the VIPs who accompanied him on a tour of the Upjohn plant on that first day. He enjoyed a meal with them at the commissary and later attended an art show gallery. Walt gave his autograph several times to groups of children during his stay.

While there, he enjoyed Gilmore's collection of antique automobiles at Gilmore's estate including being photographed riding in a classic Stanley Steamer.

On July 31, 1966, Gilmore opened the Gilmore Car Museum, with 35 collectible vehicles on 90 acres in Hickory Corners, as a way to share his collection with the public in a nonprofit educational institution. Gilmore became a car collector when in 1963, his wife, Genevieve bought him a vintage 1920 Pierce-Arrow that he quickly restored. That sparked his fever to collect other classic cars and the museum continued to expand with new additions.

Being a friend, Walt sold the 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II Sedanca De-Ville used in his live-action feature film The Gnome Mobile (1967) to Gilmore for the cost of shipping it from California to Kalamazoo. Walt included a set piece of an over-sized replica of the back seat that was four times the size of the actual back seat (so that full sized actors looked the size of a gnome when they sat on the seat). These items were installed at the museum in September 1966 and are still on view today.

The Gilmores spent time at their Smoke Tree Ranch house, near where Walt and his wife lived. Walt arranged to have the Disney Company Gulfstream airplane pick up Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore, along with Walt and Lillian, at the Palm Springs airport on Monday April 4, 1966 at 9:30 a.m. to fly to Burbank to check the mocked-up, oversized interior at the Disney Studio. Walt had lunch with the Gilmores and then the Gulfstream flew them back to Palm Springs around 2 p.m. It was roughly a half-hour flight each way.

In a letter dated June 9, 1966, Walt wrote to Gilmore:

"John Grubbs tells me the mock-up will be shipped from the Studio tomorrow [June 10th] and the trip to Kalamazoo should take between six to seven days. So it should be arriving at the Upjohn Warehouse about the 16th or 17th. 'Gnomobile' (sp) isn't quite wrapped up yet so we can't let the Rolls go until we know for sure we won't need it again for any re-takes. But it shouldn't be too long and we'll let you know when it's on its way, too."

On October 27, 1966, Walt wrote again to his friend:

"Dear Don, You may have heard from the shop in Santa Monica telling you that they picked up the Rolls Royce yesterday - but in case you hadn't, I just wanted to drop a note to tell you it is now completely yours. Thanks for letting us keep it until we had completed the picture. We sure appreciate it.

"Lilly and I have already spent a couple of weekends at Smoke Tree and are looking forward to at least one more before I go in to the hospital to have the pinched nerve in my neck taken care of. I expect to be in the hospital about 10 days and then will have a few weeks convalescence. We hope to spend most of that in Palm Springs. We'll look forward to seeing you and Jane after the first of the year. In the meantime, All the Best, Walt."

It was not a pinched nerve. It was cancer. Walt died December 15, 1966.

The Upjohn Pharmacy continued to operate on Main Street for another four years until 1970, when Disney removed any remaining original lessees and took over the shops themselves.

The main pharmacy location became New Century Watches and Clocks sponsored by Elgin. Lorus took over sponsorship in 1986 and the name became New Century Timepieces and then, later that year, New Century Jewelry when the Rings & Things shop moved from across the street to next door.

That store closed in 2008 and became the Fortuosity Shop in October of that year.

There remains a hanging sign on Main Street that advertises "Rx Drugs" (Rx being the medieval symbol of "to take") in honor of the Upjohn Pharmacy. A window above the Fortuosity Shop lists "D. S. Gilmore, MD and E.G. Upjohn, MD." Dr. E. Gifford Upjohn was the grandson of co-founder Dr. Henry Upjohn, chairman and president of Upjohn Pharmaceuticals during the 1950s and 1960s.

Another window next to it lists two other Upjohn personalities: C.V. Patterson, who started his career with Upjohn as a traveling sales representative and became vice president; and W. Fred Allen, who also began as a salesman and was later promoted to vice president.

So while the live leeches, free orange vitamins, and museum-quality displays disappeared decades ago, there still remain a handful of tributes to when Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. had its own pharmacy.