Saturday, September 2, 2023

Doctor Charles R. Drew, Inventor of the Blood Bank

Amber Lemus Christian Historical Author
Blogger: Amber Lemus

By Associated Photographic Services, Inc
- National Library of Medicine

Continuing our series on lesser-known inventors, today we learn about Dr. Charles R. Drew, the American surgeon who pioneered the techniques for blood storage, which is why he is known as the "Father of the Blood Bank."

Charles Drew was born June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C. He was the son of a carpet layer and a teacher, the oldest of four children. They grew up in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and from a young age, Drew began working as a newspaper delivery boy.

Charles was able to attend Dunbar High School, which was an advantage for him because the school was known for its equality and opportunities for all students, regardless of the racial issues of the time. Although he still experienced hostility from opposing teams, and was passed over for the position of Captain of the team, even though he was the best player. After high school, Drew won an athletics scholarship, but a biology professor ignited his interest in medical science. Further education would be expensive, so Charles became a biology and chemistry professor to earn money to pursue his next goal, medical school. He also served as an athletics coach.
Charles's High School Yearbook Entry
Public Domain

When he was ready to pursue his medical career, circumstances led Charles to McGill's medical school in Montreal, Canada. He excelled in his class, winning multiple honors and scholarships. It was here that he met Dr. John Beattie, a doctor at Montreal Hospital who was studying the correlations between shock therapy and blood transfusions. Charles interned with Doctor Beattie while earning his surgical residency at the hospital.

Still, Charles career path was fraught with difficulty and racial discrimination. He intended to further his research on blood transfusions at Mayo Clinic, but was barred from going so because their practices didn't allow black scholars. So instead, he went to Columbia University, where he won a fellowship to train with eminent surgeon, Allen Whipple. However, he was still assigned to a non-traditional path which deprived him of some of the assets afforded to his white peers, such as direct access to patients. He was, however, able to continue his study of blood storage and transfusions. He eventually managed to prove himself and his intellect, and his superiors began to respect his brilliance.

In 1940, Charles wrote a doctoral thesis on "Banked Blood: A Study on Blood Preservation". It was through this research that Charles discovered that blood could be preserved two months longer by de-liquefying it. This paper earned him the honor of becoming the first African American to earn the Doctor of Science in Medicines degree at Columbia University.
Illustration of Charles Drew from the National Archives
Public Domain

This quote from the American Chemical Society article explains how important this breakthrough was.

"Dr. Charles Richard Drew broke barriers in a racially divided America to become one of the most important scientists of the 20th century. His pioneering research and systematic developments in the use and preservation of blood plasma during World War II not only saved thousands of lives, but innovated the nation’s blood banking process and standardized procedures for long-term blood preservation and storage techniques adapted by the American Red Cross." ~ACS biography of Charles R. Drew

In February of 1941, Charles was appointed as Director of the first American Red Cross blood bank. He also invented mobile blood donation centers, which greatly increased prospective blood donation. However, this appointment was short lived. The two greatest buyers of the blood were the US Navy and US Army, who refused African-American blood. They later decided to accept it, but only if it was stored separately from blood from white donors. Charles objected to this exclusion, stating that it had absolutely no scientific foundation. He resigned his post in 1942 in protest.

“While one must grant at once that extraordinary talent, great intellectual strength and unusual opportunity are necessary to break out of this prison of the Negro problem, we believe that the Negro in the field of physical sciences has not only opened a small passageway to the outside world, but is carving a road in many untrod areas, along which later generations will find it more easy to travel. The breaching of these walls and the laying of this road has not been, and is not easy.” — Charles Drew

Charles stated that his greatest mission in life, and what he considered to be his greatest accomplishment, was training young African-American surgeons who would meet the most rigorous standards in any surgical field, and in turn place them in strategic positions throughout the country where they could nurture the tradition of excellence.

Charles career was full of honors both in academics and research. He was granted the Springard Medal by the NAACP for his work on British-American projects in 1944. He also received honorary doctorate degrees in the sciences from Virginia State College in 1945, followed by Amherst in 1947. However he died without being accepted as a member of the American Medical Association, since African-American physicians were still excluded.

Doctor Charles Drew was still campaigning against such exclusions when he tragically died in 1950 after sustaining fatal injuries in a car accident. He was only 46 years old, but he left a life-saving legacy behind.

Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post today. Dr. Drew's contributions to medicine and equality in education are worth celebrating!