American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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E. R. Squibb

Medical drug maker during the Civil War

Born July 4, 1819, Wilmington, Del., U.S. died Oct. 25, 1900, Brooklyn, N.Y.  

U.S. chemist and pharmaceutical manufacturer who developed methods of making pure and reliable drugs and founded a company to manufacture them.

During the four years when Squibb served on various ships as a U.S. Navy medical officer, he observed the poor quality of medicines supplied to the Navy. He persuaded the Navy to manufacture their own drugs instead of contracting for them from the lowest bidder. In 1851, he was appointed to Brooklyn Naval Hospital. He set up a laboratory there and built the first still for making anesthetic ether. The ether was heated by steam passing through a coil rather than by open flame, which had been dangerous. Squibb did not patent this process or any of his later discoveries. Instead, he published his design in 1856 in The American Journal of Pharmacy. Between 1852 and 1857, he discovered processes for making chloroform, fluid extracts, bismuth salts, and other preparations.

After Squibb had resigned from the Navy, Dr. Richard S. Satterlee, surgeon general of the U.S. Army, suggested that Squibb start a laboratory of his own to supply the Army with reliable drugs. After borrowing $1,300 from a friend, he set up a laboratory in Brooklyn in 1858. Less than a month later, it burned to the ground in an ether explosion. Squibb saved the records of his experiments but was badly burned in the process.

A year later, his laboratory had been rebuilt and he sent out a circular advertising 38 preparations. By 1883, he was manufacturing 324 products and selling them all over the world.

His drugs and medicines were in great demand in the Civil War. After the war, he campaigned for better enforcement of the laws regulating the import of drugs. He helped revise the Pharmacopoeia, the basic code book of American pharmacy. From 1882 until his death, he also wrote and published Ephemeris, a journal of practical advice and new discoveries, to update the Pharmacopoeia.

His inventions include the automatic zero burette and a specific gravity apparatus. In 1892, his two sons joined the firm, which became E.R. Squibb & Sons. Bottles labeled with '& Sons' are post-Civil War and post 1892.

E.R. Squibb, provided a medical pannier for field use to the U.S. Army with 52 standard medicines all packaged in Japanned Tin containers at a cost of $100.00 per pannier. This item allowed the field surgeon access to necessary medicines protected in a bound chest and packaged in unbreakable tins. Large numbers of surviving tins clearly illustrate the popularity of this form of packaging.

Bottles, however, remained a popular form of container for medicines throughout the war. The Army used both plain civilian bottles and the rarer Hospital Department bottle.


From the Reynolds Library:


Edward Robinson Squibb received his medical degree in 1845, and served as a naval surgeon from 1847-1857, where he was eventually became assistant director of the U.S. Naval Laboratory in New York. While in the service, he was exposed to the negative effects that impure medicines and drugs of variable quality have on both patients and the efficiency of the medical department. As biographer Lawrence Blochman notes, “Uniformity and purity became a lifetime passion with Dr. Squibb, a crusade which was to embrace all pharmacy” (Blochman viii). In 1856, Squibb invented an ether still apparatus that allowed for the production of better quality ether of more consistent strength and purity. His new process for distilling ether with live steam also made its use much safer, since an open flame was no longer needed to process the highly volatile chemical (Blochman vii-viii). The effectiveness of anesthesia was greatly improved by Squibb’s device. This was very fortunate to have by the war’s beginning.

Squibb left the navy in 1857 and set up a private pharmaceutical laboratory in Brooklyn, New York. Though he had already completed his military service before Civil War, Squibb did play an important part of the war effort by supplying pure, quality ether, chloroform and a variety of other medicines to the U.S. Army. He was also responsible for designing a new kind of light-weight pannier box (or medicine chest) which was used to distribute medicines to doctors working in the field (Smith 13-14). Essential to the establishment of Squibb’s lab as one of the primary army pharmaceutical suppliers was his good working relationship with military medical leaders. Chief purveyor for the U.S. Army, Richard S. Satterlee (1789-1880), impressed with the quality and skill of Squibb’s work, was responsible for many of the orders and contracts Squibb received from the army. After the war’s start, Satterlee requested that Squibb expand his laboratory to fill more of the army needs. Adequately convinced that the war would not be over in just a few months like many thought, Squibb re-located to a newly constructed two-story facility, and from there he supplied about one-twelfth of the army medical stores (Flannery 106). However, the army continued to need more and more supplies, and it was not long before government laboratories were set up to fill in the gaps of private industry. Now Squibb and other pharmaceutical manufacturers had competition to face. But in the end, government labs only supplemented private suppliers instead of destroying them as some feared (Flannery 114). In fact, the Civil War helped Squibb start what became a very successful pharmaceutical company, the Squibb Corporation, which is still thriving today. Also during the war, Squibb authored many articles in pharmacy journals, especially the American Journal of Pharmacy. The Reynolds Historical Library holds all war-year volumes of this publication.

After the Civil War, Squibb’s company emerged as a leader in the industry, a status it continued to hold after Squibb’s death in 1900. In addition to his highly-regarded business, Edward Squibb was also known for what Lawrence Blochman calls his “rugged idealism”. He was committed to pure, quality pharmaceutics manufactured and distributed to high professional and ethical standards. Never patenting his discoveries and inventions, Squibb held onto the notion that anyone who wished to use them to benefit mankind should have the ability. And he took up the cause of revising and completely revamping the United States Pharmacopoeia, a standard reference in the field. When the American Medical Association rejected his suggestion, Squibb founded a publication that could live up to his standards, An ephemeris of materia medica, pharmacy, therapeutics and collateral information. Although his two sons were named co-editors, most of the articles within this journal were written by Squibb himself. Distributed to professionals free of charge, this journal evaluated medicines, apparatuses and techniques, and was critical of greedy quacks (Florey xx; Blochman viii-ix). Issues were published every two months in order to keep professionals abreast of new developments throughout the year (Blochman 299). The Reynolds Historical Library holds the first two bound volumes of Squibb’s publication from 1882/1883 and 1884/1885.

Color information on Hosp. Dept. bottles

Civil War Medicine Containers in the Echols' collection with Squibb bottles


Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols



Civil War Medical Collections 


Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:


Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

U.S. Army Pannier:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016