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Pharmacy artifacts help tell the story of the Burman family legacy as seen through DCHS exhibit

Delaware County Historical Society’s newest exhibit “Another Glimpse of Delaware County” showcases the history of pharmaceuticals in one of the 13 displays making up the exhibit.

In 1965, at the young age of 27, local Chester resident and Temple graduate, Harvey Burman, opened Burman’s Pharmacy at 24th and Madison Streets. At the time, there were 22 independent pharmacies competing in Chester City, but despite the competition, Burman had the intention of outlasting them all. Chester was at its height of its vitality with over 50,000 residents. There weren’t any chain pharmacies, such as Rite Aid, Walgreen’s or CVS, and residents depended greatly on their local pharmacist.

In 1979, the family pharmacy moved to 21st and Edgmont Avenue to a 1,000-square-feet corner storefront. Over the years, Harvey outlasted the competition on customer service and value pricing, and was proud to be the last standing independent pharmacy in Chester in 2009, when the pharmacy moved down Edgmont Avenue to Brookhaven.

In 1983, Harvey’s son, Steve Burman graduated from University of the Sciences, in Philadelphia, and joined his father in running the family business.

“Our whole family revolved around the pharmacy,” Steve Burman said in a 2015 documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary. “We were able to remain in business with succeeding generations joining the company.”

With thoughtful leadership, a hard-working staff, and unwavering focus on customer service, Burman’s grew into a full-service pharmacy and added two complementary businesses offering, compounding, home health care, medical supplies and specialty pharmacy.

Burman describe the success of the specialty pharmacy as “The Miracle at the Meadowbrook” since it was located in the Meadowbrook Shopping Center, Burman explained, “We overcame incredible odds to succeed like we did.”

He explained why the family decided to share this collection with DCHS for public viewing during the exhibit.

“The Burman family moved to Chester in 1923, almost 100 years ago,” he said. “We have operated businesses in Chester for four generations, so Chester history is very important to us. Our pharmacy business started in 1965 and lasted for 50 years, so it’s important to us to share our history and, more importantly, to share the pharmacy history. It’s important to see the progression of the pharmacy profession.”

Some of the items on display include a mortar and pestle, implements used since ancient times to prepare ingredients and substances by crushing and grinding them into a fine paste or powder. Mortars, Burman explained, were bowls made of hard wood, metal, ceramic or hard stone like granite. The pestle is the heavy, blunt club-shaped object.

“Keep in mind,” Steve explains, “that there were no drug manufacturers. There were many chemical companies that sold to pharmacies and the pharmacies compounded every prescription to the physician order.”

Some glass bottles on display have glass stoppers or corks that were used to seal the medication between uses. Burman shared that these bottles were often dark blue or green to protect the medication from light.

Some bottles stored mercury, camphor and essential oils that were used for preparing compounds.

A bath thermometer in the display is set in a wood structure that would float in the bath and would indicate if the water temperature was tepid, cool, warm or hot, explains Burman. Different ailments determined what the prescribed water temperature was to be.

One of Steve Burman’s favorite items is a collection of prescriptions from the 1920’s.

“They represent the prescribing examples of the physicians at that time,” he said. “Imagine – penicillin was not even close to being discovered, pharmacists had to be creative in treating infections.”

A six-drawer black filing cabinet on display was used at Burman’s pharmacy for organizing prescriptions by last name. Some remedies on view include containers for Smith’s Pills, Bromo Caffeine, Rhubarb and Soda and even a bottle once holding the infamous “Quaaludes”.

The pharmacy display, and 13 other displays, all part of the “Another Glimpse of Delaware County’s History” exhibit is currently on view at the home of DCHS at 408 Avenue of the States. Please call 610-359-0832 or visit with any questions. DCHS is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays.

Appointments and group/school tours are available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot. Memberships are encouraged and donations are graciously accepted.

Items from the Burman Pharmacy are on display in "Another Glimpse of Delaware County's History" at DCHS.

Burman's cornerstore pharmacy location was at 21st and Edgmont streets in Chester.

A filing cabinet on display at DCHS was used at Burman's Pharmacy to store customer prescriptions by last name.

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