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Little Shop of Rubber: 1920

Little Shop of Rubber: 1920

Washington circa 1920. "People's Drug Store, interior, 14th and U streets." We're happy to report that this branch upholds People's reputation as a purveyor of such household essentials as Glemby Hair Nets, hot water bottles and scary black rubber gloves. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.


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Voices of Christmas past

Perhaps it's a little late to comment on this, but those disks look to be thermometer, hygrometers, a common weather forecasting tool then, while the slow shutter speeds back then would make anything not as still as a statue blur out or disappear completely. So many people missed out on a chance to be Shorpy heros just by getting antsy and moving too soon!

[This was an instantaneous exposure illuminated by magnesium flash powder. - tterrace]

People's Drug Store Ad

An advertisement for People's from October 1921 which lists prices of many everyday items. Note that the 49 cent rubber gloves were important enough to list in the masthead. Additionally, water bottles (98 cents) and syringes get their own box. Other intriguing items include

  • Brown's Bronchial Troches
  • Carter's Little Liver Pills
  • De Witt's Kidney Pills
  • Edward's Olive Tablets
  • Glover's Mange Remedy
  • Howard's Boil and Drawing Salve
  • King's New Discovery
  • Morse's Indian Root Pills
  • Nazeptic Wool
  • Pinkham's Vegetable Comp.
  • Sal Hepatica
  • Tyree's Powder
  • Vapo Cresoline
  • Wyeth's Colyrium
  • Zysyrol
  • Zymole Trokeys

Click the ad below to enlarge.

Heavy Duty stockings

The lady in the middle of the picture seems to be wearing some really heavy duty "nylons" (no pantyhose in those days) with heavily reinforced heels, sturdy seams up the back and perhaps made from rayon or cotton. Also curious are her metallic shoes which were not common in 1920 except for showgirls and flappers. This drugstore certainly did a thriving business, quite a store full of people for a specialty business. In today's world, it would be difficult to keep kids, teens and even adults from fooling around on the stepladder. Don't want to sound like a cranky old fogie but I believe most people behaved better and with more civility a few generations back.

[On a chemical-historical note: Nylons did not exist in the 1920s. - Dave]


The flooring resembles a linoleum pattern from our kitchen in the 70s, when I wore bellbottoms and sported an white guy's perm-afro.

Handmade Hair Nets

Glemby Inc., founded in 1883, originally specialized in handmade hair nets before expanding into a chain of beauty salons now operating in more than 1600 hotels and department stores around the world, according to a company history in the 1989 obituary of Nathan G. Finkelstein, Glemby's chairman for more than 40 years.

Until synthetic materials began to be used in the late 1920s, the best quality hair nets were hand-knotted from real human hair. Most of these were made in Italy and in China and imported to the United States for marketing under major brand names, but also under the names of individual pharmacies. I know this because of the hundreds of human hair hair nets from the 1910s through the 1930s, still in their original printed paper wrappers, in the vast inventory of an amazing drugstore museum collection in Los Angeles that I was hired to appraise in the early 1990s.

My grandma (born 1922)

My grandma (born 1922) checked out the picture with me and was very surprised to see black patrons being served with white. She said her generation was so ignorant that they thought the color of a man's skin determined his worth.

She also said that the chocolate bars at the front of the counter were normal sized!! From a nickel to as much as a dime, you got the same size chocolate bar that is sold as "king sized" today. Ah, if only we could see those prices again.


Those hot water bottles were usually used for bed-warmers. Did you notice the ladder rail in the front and back room?

Buy in Bulk

It should be noted that the Glemby Hair Nets are cheaper by the dozen.

Fast fans?

What are the two dark objects suspended from the ceiling? They look like fan motors, but where are the blades? Surely the blades can't be spinning so fast that there is no evidence of them in the photo.

Chocolate Bars!

Are those candy bars stacked on top of the display case on the right? They must have sold a lot of them! Hot water bottles,too, judging from the ones hanging on the wall - probably for when you made yourself sick from the candy bars, eh? They got you comin' and goin'! That's capitalism for you - and also a drug store for you. See, they sell DRUGS; candy, cigarettes, junk food - and then sell you things to make you feel better afterward.

Pretty shiny objects

Anyone know what the roundish shiny disks are up at the top on the right side? They're to the right of the display of hot water bags. Perhaps a zoom on the sign with them would clear it up. I thought they were clocks, but on closer inspection they seem to be uniformly metallic.

[They are metal hot water bottles. - Dave]

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