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Inventing Blistex

A chance meeting on a train between a Seattle pharmacist and Chicago businessman turned an ointment created in L.D. Bracken’s pharmacy into an international brand.

“Many people don’t realize how inventive pharmacists have been throughout history. L.D. Bracken’s story is a great example of the kinds of transformative products and entrepreneurial spirit that often begin in the local, community pharmacy.”—Andy Stergachis, Associate Dean for Research, Graduate Programs, and New Initiatives

The Bracken family has made significant contributions to pharmacy practice—initially through a compounding invention, and decades later through their investment in creating a state-of-the-art pharmacy learning lab here at the UW School of Pharmacy.

Born in Nebraska in 1892—the same year as UWSOP alumna Alice Ball—Louis D. (L.D.) Brackenattended the UW School of Pharmacy from 1912-1913. He went on to found the L.D. Bracken Pharmacy in 1921, ultimately with locations in downtown Seattle in the Cobb Building and on First Hill. In the great tradition of compounding pharmacists, L.D. was an inventor, in addition to being an entrepreneur and health care provider.

Not long after graduating from UWSOP, he created a formula for cold sores that he called Blistex. L.D. was a gifted pharmacist and businessman who needed a partner who could help him with marketing and business expansion. But with Shark Tank 90 or so years in the future, where would he find that kind of business partner?

It was in 1925 when L.D. met Charles Arch while the two were traveling the U.S. by train. Charles was a sales man working for a company that made collapsible metal tubes (like toothpaste tubes), The two struck up a conversation and later agreed for Charles to purchase the rights to make and distribute L.D.’s product.

L.D. kept the trademark and earned royalties on the sales—while continuing his vital pharmacy business in Seattle. His son, Jim L. Bracken, followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from UWSOP in 1945 and then joining his father’s pharmacy business.

Interestingly, alumna Pat Tanac, ’45, also worked for L.D. Bracken Pharmacy when she graduated. She was one of 2 co-founders of Chi Collegiate Chapter of Lambda Kappa Sigma, the professional fraternity for women in pharmacy Pat and her husband Robert Tanac, ’45, are founding members of and the Dean’s Club and Pharmacy Alumni Association.

When L.D. died in 1954, Jim became president of the company. L.D. and Jim were beloved leaders in the profession, serving as presidents of the Washington State Pharmacists Association and as founding members of the American College of Apothecaries.

Bracken Pharmacy Learning Center opened up a more fluid pedagogical space

Jim was also named Pharmacist of the Year for King County. He passed away in 1984. Jim’s wife, Sharon M. Bracken, and their children, Laura Bracken Clough, Carol Bracken Clemency, and John L. Bracken, continue to value and honor the contributions that L.D. and Jim made to the profession of pharmacy.

Sharon established the Bracken Endowment in memory of Jim and L.D. In 2012, UWSOP opened the Bracken Pharmacy Learning Center, which continues as a hub of training excellence for the next generation of Husky Pharmacists.


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