C. O. Bigelow Apothecary – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

C. O. Bigelow Apothecary

The oldest operating apothecary in the US has treated everyone from Thomas Edison to Mark Twain. 


Hidden in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, a small establishment prepares and dispenses their own range of cure-alls and remedies just as they have everyday since 1838.

C. O. Bigelow Apothecary is America’s oldest operating apothecary. Providing New Yorkers with a wide range of medicines, salves, balms, perfumes, and elixirs for nearly 200 years, the historic pharmacy aims to, in their own words, transport “customers back to a time and place of personalized attention, customized formulas, and healing, therapeutic preparations.” 

Initially founded by Dr. Galen Hunter, ownership was sold to co-worker Clarence Otis Bigelow in 1880, starting a tradition where the store was passed on from employer to employee. Since 1939, three generations of Ginsberg’s have run a shop rich in New York history. Legend has it that Thomas Edison soothed his burnt fingers with a Bigelow’s balm whilst testing an early prototype of his light bulb. The company ledgers for 1905 and 1906 have a S. L. Clemens of 21, Fifth Avenue, regularly charging to his account there. Quite exactly what Mark Twain was buying from Bigelow’s isn’t recorded, but he was a faithful customer who paid his bills on time. Eleanor Roosevelt was also a regular customer when she lived on East 11th Street between 1933 and 1942. Bigelow’s is such an institution of Greenwich Village life that when its resident cat, Mr. Bigelow, was put to sleep in 1995 he was given his own obituary in the New York Times.

Today, in an era where chain stores are driving smaller independent ones regularly out of business, Bigelow’s is still going strong. Dr. Hunter’s first creation, the skin replenishing Rose Wonder Cold Cream is for sale just as it was in 1838. Mark Twain might not be walking the aisles looking for barber cologne elixirs, and the eye drops for scratched corneas are no longer laced with cocaine, but a visit to Bigelow’s remains a refreshing step back in time. As their centuries old slogan goes, “If you can’t get it anywhere else, try Bigelow!”

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