Charles Richard Drew
Charles Richard Drew
Born(1904-06-03)June 3, 1904
DiedApril 1, 1950(1950-04-01) (aged 45)
Alma materAmherst College, McGill University
Columbia University
Known forBlood banking, blood transfusions
AwardsSpingarn Medal
Scientific career
FieldsGeneral surgery
InstitutionsFreedman's Hospital
Morgan State University
Montreal General Hospital
Howard University
Doctoral advisorJohn Beattie

Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of Allied forces' lives during the war.[1] As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.[2]

Early life and education

Charles Drew's 1922 Dunbar High School yearbook entry.

Drew was born in 1904 into an African-American middle-class family in Washington, D.C.[3] His father, Richard, was a carpet layer[4] and his mother, Nora Burrell, trained as a teacher.[5] Drew and three (two sisters, one brother) of his four younger siblings (three sisters and one brother total) grew up in Washington's largely middle-class and interracial Foggy Bottom neighborhood.[5][3] From a young age Drew began work as a newspaper boy in his neighborhood, daily helping deliver over a thousand newspapers to his neighbors. Drew attended Washington's Dunbar High School which was well known for its equality and opportunities for all, despite the racial climate at the time.[6] From 1920 until his marriage in 1939, Drew's permanent address was in Arlington County, Virginia,[7] although he graduated from Washington's Dunbar High School in 1922 and resided elsewhere during that period of time.[5][8]

Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts,[9] where he played on the football as well as the track and field team, and later graduated in 1926.[6] After college, Drew spent two years (1926–1928) as a professor of chemistry and biology, the first athletic director, and football coach at the historically black private Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland, to earn the money to pay for medical school.[5][10][11]

For his medical career Drew applied to Howard University, Harvard Medical School and later McGill University.[6] Drew lacked some prerequisites for Howard University, and Harvard wanted to defer him a year, so to begin medical school promptly, Drew decided to attend McGill's medical school in Montreal, Canada.[12]

It was during this stage in his medical journey that Drew worked with John Beattie, who was conducting research regarding the potential correlations between blood transfusions and shock therapy.[13] Shock occurs as the amount of blood in the body rapidly declines which can be due to a variety of factors such as a wound or lack of fluids (dehydration). As the body goes into shock, both blood pressure and body temperature decrease which then causes a lack of blood flow and a loss of oxygen in the body's tissues and cells. Eventually, it became clear that transfusions were the solution to treating victims of shock, but at the time there was no successful method of transportation or mass storage of blood, leaving transfusions to be extremely limited to location.[13]

At McGill, he achieved membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, a scholastic honor society for medical students, ranked second in his graduating class of 127 students, and received the standard Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree awarded by the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1933.[7][9]

Freedman's Hospital between 1910 and 1935

Drew's first appointment as a faculty instructor was for pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936.[14] He then joined Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University, as an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon. In 1938, Drew began graduate work at Columbia University in New York City on the award of a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery. He then began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science at Surgery at Columbia University. He spent time doing research at Columbia's Presbyterian Hospital and wrote a doctoral thesis, "Banked Blood: A Study on Blood Preservation," based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques.[14] It was through this blood preservation research where Drew realized blood plasma was able to be preserved, two months,[6] longer through de-liquification, or the separation of liquid blood from the cells. When ready for use the plasma would then be able to return to its original state via reconstitution.[15] This thesis earned him his Doctor of Science in Medicine degree in 1940, becoming the first African American to do so.[12][16] The District of Columbia chapter of the American Medical Association allowed only white doctors to join, consequently "... Drew died without ever being accepted for membership in the AMA."[17]

Blood for Britain

In late 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II and just after earning his doctorate, Drew was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and administer an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation. Here Drew was able to apply his thesis to aid in the blood preservation and transportation. He was to collect, test, and transport large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom.[18] Drew understood that plasma extraction from blood required both centrifugation and liquid extraction. Each extraction was conducted under controlled conditions to eliminate risk of contamination. Air concealment, ultraviolet light and Merthiolate were all used to mitigate the possibility of plasma contamination.[9]

Plasma transfusion package and extractor used to collect plasma from donors

Drew went to New York City as the medical director of the United States' Blood for Britain project. It was here that Drew helped set the standard for other hospitals donating blood plasma to Britain by ensuring clean transfusions along with proper aseptic technique to ensure viable plasma dispersals were sent to Britain.[12] The Blood for Britain project was a project to aid British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.

Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain program operated successfully for five months, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma.[18] As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work.

American Red Cross Blood Bank

Drew's work led to his appointment as director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank in February 1941. He also invented what would be later known as bloodmobiles, mobile donation stations that could collect the blood and refrigerate it; this allowed for greater mobility in terms of transportation and increased prospective donations.[3] The blood bank supplied blood to the U.S. Army and Navy, who initially rejected the blood of African-Americans and later accepted it only if it were stored separately from that of Whites.[3] Drew objected to the exclusion of African-Americans' blood from plasma-supply networks, and in 1942 he resigned in protest.[19]

Academic achievements

In 1941, Drew's distinction in his profession was recognized when he became the first African-American surgeon selected to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.[20]

Drew had a lengthy research and teaching career, returning to Freedman's Hospital and Howard University as a surgeon and professor of medicine in 1942. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1944 for his work on the British and American projects. He was given an honorary doctor of science degree, first by Virginia State College in 1945 then by Amherst in 1947.[19]

Personal life

Minnie Lenore Robbins with NIH Director, Donald Frederickson, unveiling of bust and exhibit of her husband, 1981

In 1939, Drew married Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of home economics at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, whom he had met earlier during that year.[21] They had three daughters and a son.[5] His daughter Charlene Drew Jarvis served on Council of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 2000, was the president of Southeastern University from 1996 until 2009, and was a president of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce.[22]


Illustration of Drew by Charles Alston in the collection of the National Archives

Beginning in 1939, Drew traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama, to attend the annual free clinic at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital.[23] For the 1950 Tuskegee clinic, Drew drove along with three other black physicians. Drew was driving around 8 a.m. on April 1. Still fatigued from spending the night before in the operating theater, he lost control of the vehicle. After careening into a field, the car somersaulted three times. The three other physicians sustained minor injuries. Drew was trapped with severe wounds; his foot had become wedged beneath the brake pedal.

When reached by emergency technicians, he was in shock and barely alive due to severe leg injuries. Drew was taken to Alamance General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina.[24] He was pronounced dead a half hour after he first received medical attention. Drew's funeral was held on April 5, 1950, at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Despite a popular myth to the contrary, once repeated on an episode ("Dear Dad... Three") of the hit TV series M*A*S*H and in the novels Carrion Comfort and The 480, Drew's death was not the result of his having been refused hospital access because of his race. According to John Ford, one of the passengers in Drew's car, Drew's injuries were so severe that virtually nothing could have been done to save him. Ford added that a blood transfusion might have actually killed Drew sooner.[24][25][26] This myth spread, however, because it was not then uncommon for black people to be refused treatment because there were not enough "Negro beds" available or the nearest hospital only serviced whites.[27]


Charles Richard Drew House

Numerous schools and health-related facilities, as well as other institutions, have been named in honor of Drew, including the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Medical and higher education

K-12 schools

Mural of Doctor Charles R. Drew at the Charles Richard Drew Educational Campus / Intermediate School in the Bronx, NY



  1. ^ "Patent For Preserving Blood Issued November 10, 1942; Washingtonian's invention made blood bank possible" (Press release). Brigid Quinn, United States Patent and Trademark Office. November 9, 2001. Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  2. ^ Inventions, Mary Bellis Inventions Expert Mary Bellis covered; films, inventors for ThoughtCo for 18 years She is known for her independent; documentaries; Alex, including one about; Bellis, er Graham Bell our editorial process Mary. "All About the Inventor of the Blood Bank". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Father of Blood Banking: Dr. Charles R. Drew". San Diego Blood Bank. 31 January 2019. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
  4. ^ "Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930) [database on-line], Arlington Magisterial District, Arlington County, Virginia, Enumeration District: 7–11, Page: 6B, Line: 69, household of Richard T. Drew". United States: The Generations Network. 1930-04-14. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  5. ^ a b c d e "The Charles R. Drew Papers". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  6. ^ a b c d Tan, Siang Yong; Merritt, Christopher (2017). "Charles Richard Drew (1904–1950): Father of blood banking". Singapore Medical Journal. 58 (10): 593–594. doi:10.11622/smedj.2017099. ISSN 0037-5675. PMC 5651504. PMID 29119194.
  7. ^ a b c (1) "Charles Richard Drew House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
    (2) Graves, Lynne Gomez, Historical Projects Director, Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation (1976-02-02). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Charles Richard Drew House". National Park Service. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2019-01-17. Retrieved 2019-01-17. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) and "Accompanying 4 photos, exterior, from 1920 and 1976". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2019-01-17. Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  8. ^ (1) Blitz, Matt (2017-02-20). "Charles Drew Lived Here". Arlington Magazine. Archived from the original on 2019-02-04. Retrieved 2019-02-04 – via GTexcel.
    (2) Drew, Charles B. (1995-04-07). "Stranger Than Fact". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  9. ^ a b c "Charles Richard Drew". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  10. ^ "Former Morgan Professor Dr. Charles Drew Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame". Morgan State University. 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  11. ^ "Morgan State Bears Hall of Fame". Morgan State Bears football team. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  12. ^ a b c "Biographical Overview". Charles R. Drew – Profiles in Science. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  13. ^ a b "Education and Early Medical Career, 1922–1938". Charles R. Drew – Profiles in Science. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  14. ^ a b "Charles R. Drew, MD | Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science". Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  15. ^ "Charles Drew". Biography. 3 September 2020. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  16. ^ Drew, Charles R. (1940-05-31). "Letter from Charles R. Drew to Edwin B. Henderson" (PDF). Bethesda, Maryland: National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-01-17. On Tuesday I get the degree of Doctor of Science in Medicine.
  17. ^ Wynes, Charles E. (1988). Charles Richard Drew: The Man and the Myth. Internet Archive. University of Illinois Press (Urbana). p. 84. ISBN 978-0252015519.
  18. ^ a b Starr, Douglas P. (2000). Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce. New York: Quill. ISBN 0688176496.
  19. ^ a b "Charles R. Drew, MD | Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science".
  20. ^ "The Charles R. Drew Papers – "My Chief Interest Was and Is Surgery" – Howard University, 1941–1950". Profiles in Science. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2013-09-17. Other sources put the date as late as 1943, e.g., PBS's Red Gold.
  21. ^ Biography by United States National Library of Medicine
  22. ^ (1) "Ward 4 Member of the Council of the District of Columbia". District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. Archived from the original on 2008-07-16.
    (2) Hallman, Lesly. "Legacy and Memory of Charles Drew Lives On". American Red Cross. Archived from the original on 2004-11-27. Retrieved 2004-06-04.
    (3) "Board of Trustees: The Honorable Charlene Drew Jarvis, PhD, Secretary". The National Health Museum. January 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-08-23. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  23. ^ Schraff, Anne E. (2003), Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine, Enslow Publishing, Inc.
  24. ^ a b "Question of the Month: The Truth About the Death of Charles Drew". Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. June 2004. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  25. ^ "Did the black doctor who invented blood plasma die because white doctors wouldn't treat him?". The Straight Dope. November 1989. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  26. ^ Sluby, Patricia Carter (2004). The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0275966744. OCLC 260101002. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  27. ^ Sternberg, Steve (July 29, 2015). "Desegregation: The Hidden Legacy of Medicare". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  28. ^ Charles Richard Drew Memorial Bridge at The Historical Marker Database.
  29. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573929639
  30. ^ Charles Drew Health Center
  31. ^ About Dr. Charles R. Drew Archived 2006-09-01 at the Wayback Machine, Charles Drew Charles Drew Science Enrichment Laboratory, Michigan State University
  32. ^ Charles R. Drew Wellness Center Archived June 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, City of Columbia.
  33. ^ "Washington D.C. American Red Cross". Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  34. ^ Charles R. Drew Hall Archived 2006-08-27 at the Wayback Machine, Howard University
  35. ^ "Amherst College page on the house". Archived from the original on August 10, 2015.
  36. ^ "Charles Drew Premedical Society". Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  37. ^ Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  38. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School Archived June 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Broward County Public Schools
  39. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Bluford Drew Jemison S.T.E.M. Academy. Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  40. ^ Green, Erica L. (2013-06-11). "City school board approves three new charters". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore. Archived from the original on 2019-02-21. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  41. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School Archived 2019-05-22 at the Wayback Machine, Montgomery County Public Schools
  42. ^ "Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School". Arlington Public Schools. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  43. ^ "Welcome to Drew". Arlington Public Schools. Archived from the original on 2017-06-07. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  44. ^ Fehling, Leticia. "Drew Academy".
  45. ^ "NYC Department of Education Maps". NYC Department of Education. Retrieved May 19, 2023.

Further reading