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It Starts With One: Christopher Marshall and Biotechnology in Early Philadelphia

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BIO Media Relations
June 3, 2019

Christopher Marshall was a busy man.

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1709, Marshall studied in England before settling in America in the late 1720s.  (Going to America was against his parents’ express wishes, so it’s clear Marshall had an independent streak.)  By 1729 he had established an apothecary shop right here in Philadelphia, which records indicate was the first of its kind.  The shop grew to be not only a leading retail store, but the nucleus of large-scale chemical manufacturing and a practical training school for apothecaries long before any formal pharmaceutical school existed.

Marshall was quite successful with his pharmacy business and retired in 1774—but Philadelphia in 1774 was neither the time nor the place for a peaceful retirement.  Despite nearing 70 years of age Marshall soon found himself a delegate to the 1776 Provincial Conference, as well as a member of both the Philadelphia Committee of Inspection and Observation and the Committee of Safety.

That would be enough to keep the aging druggist busy, but he also managed to supply medicines to the American troops under General George Washington.  During the Revolutionary War medicines were incredibly sparse, in part because they had mostly been imported from England.  With that supply cut off it was up to Apothecary General Andrew Craigie to ensure a supply of medicine from pharmacists like Christopher Marshall, who alone managed to supply most of the troops from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.  In fact, his unfailing dedication to the revolutionary cause got him cast out of his Quaker meeting, the Quakers famously demanding their members take no sides in the conflict.

Marshall died in 1797, but his pharmaceutical legacy was completed by his children: his daughter Elizabeth became the first American woman apothecary in 1805.  His son Charles became the first president of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, the first college of pharmacy in the nation, in 1821.  Charles and his brother Christopher Jr. took over their father’s business just after the American Revolution (when their father could finally retire for good) and became the first to produce pharmaceutical chemicals on a large scale in the new United States.

Christopher Marshall: it starts with one.


Christopher Marshall’s house used to lay just catty-corner from the Science History Institute, a museum and library dedicated to chronicling and preserving the history of the life sciences, chemistry, and chemical engineering.  Be sure to visit the Institute while you are here in Philadelphia and walk in Marshall’s footsteps!

Part two of this series on the history of biotech in Philadelphia will appear in tomorrow’s show daily.