GIVING IN ACTION: Making Dreams Come True

Inventing a Household Name

Blistex Creator’s Family Expands Legacy with Pharmacy Scholarship

UW School of Pharmacy

In the 1930s, a group of doctors in downtown Seattle asked the pharmacist in their building for an ointment to treat patients with shingles, a painful rash caused by the herpes zoster virus. The pharmacist, Louis “L.D.” Bracken, had attended the UW College of Pharmacy and was well respected. He had a reputation for compounding — mixing ingredients to create medicines tailored for individual patients — and had created ointments for bee stings and dandruff. But it was during his quest to treat herpes zoster that he compounded an ointment that effectively treated another type of herpes, the kind that causes cold sores. L.D. named his ointment Blistex, and it would become his legacy, both at the UW and in the world.

“L.D. was forward-thinking,” says John L. Bracken, L.D.’s grandson. “But I don’t think he ever imagined Blistex would have grown to where it is today.”

At first, L.D. packaged Blistex in small glass jars for the doctors in his building and his own patients. Soon, other local pharmacies and drug wholesalers wanted to carry it. L.D. decided that for larger distribution, Blistex would need to be sold in tubes. This manufacturing decision and an astute tube salesman from Illinois named Charlie Arch would seal the fate of Blistex.

John tells the story this way: “After a few years of watching Blistex tube sales go way up, Charlie told L.D. ‘Hey, these things are selling like hotcakes. I think you’ve got something here. Why don’t you quit being a pharmacist? Let’s build a business in Illinois.’” But L.D. wasn’t interested in going to Illinois to be a businessman. He was a pharmacist, and Seattle was his home. If Charlie wanted to start a business to sell Blistex, though, L.D. was behind him.

Charlie, with L.D. as a partner in Seattle, spearheaded the formation of a Blistex Inc. and incorporated the company on June 5, 1947, in Illinois. While L.D. participated in Blistex company decisions, he remained true to his first passion—taking care of patients in his pharmacy shop in Seattle.

Before he died in 1954, L.D. Bracken would see his invention reach markets across the United States and into Canada. In the almost 60 years since then, Blistex Inc. has grown into a multi-million dollar company with worldwide distribution. And L.D.’s Blistex cold sore ointment has become a household name.

L.D.’s legacy at the UW has become familiar to pharmacy students, too. The Bracken family established a scholarship endowment at the UW School of Pharmacy to honor L.D., as well as his son, the late Jim Bracken, ’45, who joined the family business. Both men were entrepreneurs and beloved leaders in the profession. The scholarship established to honor them supports future pharmacists who may, one day, invent a life-changing compound, too.

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