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Fascinating facts about Charles Richard Drew inventor of the Blood Bank in 1940..

Charles Richard Drew
The American Red Cross blood program of today is a direct result of the work of medical pioneer Dr. Charles Drew, beginning in 1940 and throughout World War II. Dr. Drew was instrumental in developing blood plasma processing, storage and transfusion therapy. His groundbreaking work in the large-scale production of human plasma was eventually used by the U.S. Army and the American Red Cross as the basis for blood banks..
Inventor: Charles Richard Drew
Charles Drew photo courtesy Dr. Charles Drew, Medical Pioneer  book cover
Criteria: First practical. Modern prototype.
Birth: June 3, 1904,in Washington, D.C.
Death: April 1, 1950 while traveling in rural North Carolina.
Nationality: American
Invention: Blood Bank
Blood drive photo courtesy American Red Cross
Function: noun / blood plasma
Definition: A place, usually a separate division of a hospital laboratory, in which blood is collected from donors, typed, and often separated into several components for future transfusion to recipients. The American Red Cross operates the largest blood bank in the U.S.
1904 Charles Drew born on June 3, in Washington D.C.
1939 Drew married Minnie Lenore Robbins, and they had four children
1940 Completes his doctoral thesis, titled "Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation".
1940 Drew was appointed medical supervisor of the "Plasma for Britain" project.
1941 Drew was named director of the newly formed Red Cross Blood Bank .
1950 Drew died on April 1, in an auto accident while traveling to a medical convention
CAPS: Drew, Charles Drew, Charles Richard Drew, Dr. John Scudder, American Red Cross, ARY,  blood bank, blood plasma, dried blood, blood transfusion, SIP, history, biography, inventor, invention, story, facts.
The Story:
Dr. Charles Richard Drew was the first person to develop the blood bank. His introduction of a system for the storing of blood plasma revolutionized the medical profession. Drew first utilized his system on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific during World War II. He organized the world's first blood bank project  in 1940 - Blood for Britain. He also established the American Red Cross Blood Bank, of which he was the first director.

Drew was born in Washington, D.C. June 3, 1904 to Richard and Nora Drew, and was the oldest of five children. In his youth he seemed headed for a career in athletics and the coaching field rather than for medicine, starring as a four letter man in Dunbar High School, Washington. He went on to study at Amherst College, where he was a star athlete, all-American half-back and captain of his Amherst College football team.

After graduation, Charles Drew was a coach and a biology and chemistry instructor at Morgan State College, Baltimore, Maryland. But a turning point in his life was at hand. It had become his ambition to enter the field of medicine. He resigned his job at Morgan State and went to Montreal, Canada, where he enrolled in McGill University's Medical School. There he was granted two fellowships and was awarded his doctorate of medicine and master of surgery degrees.

For two years following graduation, Dr. Drew was an intern and resident in Montreal hospitals. In 1935, he returned to the United States to accept an appointment as instructor in pathology at the College of Medicine of Howard University in Washington, D.C. During the next two years, he advanced to become assistant professor of surgery.

Dr. Drew showed such promise in his work at Howard University that in 1938, at a time when war clouds were gathering over Europe, he was recommended for one of the Rockefeller fellowships at Columbia aimed at promoting advanced training in all fields of medicine. It was through this fellow ship that he met Dr. John Scudder and began study under him. 

Dr. Drew was married in 1939 to Minnie Lenore Robbins, and they had four children, Bebe Roberta, Charlene Rosella, Rhea Sylvia, and Charles Richard, Jr. Shortly after, Dr. Drew earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from Columbia University in 1940, with a 200 page doctoral thesis under the title "Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation".

Drew received an urgent cablegram from a former teacher, who had returned to England. The cable requested 5,000 glass containers of dried plasma for transfusions, plus the same amount three weeks later. A large project was started in August 1940 to collect blood in New York City hospitals for the export of plasma to Britain. Dr. Drew was appointed medical supervisor of the "Plasma for Britain" project. His notable contribution at this time was to transform the test tube methods of many blood researchers, including himself, into the first successful mass production techniques.

By this time it had become apparent that America probably would be drawn into the war. Military authorities in the United States were concerned with the need for a stockpile of blood reserves if hostilities should begin. Dr. Drew had emerged as a leading authority on mass transfusion and processing methods.

After discussions with medical leaders and the American Red Cross, the government asked the Red Cross to establish a pilot program similar to the Plasma for Britain Project but on a smaller scale. Charles Drew was named director of the Red Cross Blood Bank and assistant director of the National Research Council, in charge of blood collection for the United States Army and Navy. The pilot center was set up through the Red Cross chapter in New York City and began operation in February 1941.

In 1941, Dr. Drew returned to Howard University, where he gained new distinction, particularly in the training of young surgeons. He had spent a total of seven months in the two blood projects, yet in this very brief but productive period of his professional life, he made an outstanding contribution to what was to become a highly successful World War II blood procurement effort.

After Dr. Drew's return to Howard, he was appointed to several scientific committees and received honorary degrees from Virginia State and Amherst Colleges in 1945 and 1947. He was one of the first of his race to be selected for membership on the American Board of Surgery. He also received the Spingarn Medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1944 for his outstanding contribution to human welfare.

The experience gained through Dr. Drew's efforts at the Red Cross New York center proved invaluable, and during World War II, 35 blood bank centers were in operation.  By war's end, millions of donations had been received by the Red Cross, donations that made possible the saving of thousands of lives of wounded U.S. servicemen lives that would have been lost in earlier wars when blood therapy was unknown.

Mankind suffered a great loss in 1950 when, at the age of 45, Dr. Drew was killed in an automobile accident while driving to a scientific conference. His pioneering medical work has endured. How many lives have been saved because of his genius at turning basic biological research into practical production methods is impossible to determine. But it is a certainty that mankind owes a debt of gratitude to Charles Richard Drew.


Black Inventors, A Class Act   from The Great Idea Finder
Healthcare History   from The Great Idea Finder

Dr. Charles Drew: Blood Bank Innovator
by Anne E. Schraff  / Library Binding: 112 pages / Enslow Publishers (June 2003)
A biography of the pioneering African American doctor famous for his work with blood plasma.
Charles Drew
by Robyn Lonesome, Nathan Huggins / Library Binding - 109 pages / Chelsea House Pub (1990)
A biography of the surgeon who conducted research on the properties and preservation of blood plasma and was a leader in establishing blood banks.
Charles Drew: Pioneer of Blood Plasma  (Limited Availability)
by Linda Trice / Paperback: 121 pages / McGraw-Hill Trade; ; (July 11, 2000)
The inspiring true story of how the founder of America's Blood Banks paved the way for minorities in medicine.
Dr. Charles Drew, Medical Pioneer
by Susan Whitehurst / School & Library Binding: 40 pages / Childs World;   (October 2001)
Provides a brief overview of the life and career of African-American doctor Charles Drew. Well-designed, the layouts are clean and uncluttered; the bordered sepia-toned photographs are of above-average quality.
One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew
by Spencie Love, John Hope Franklin / Paperback - 400 pages / Univ of North Carolina Press (1997)
This wonderful book not only includes accurate, scholarly historical research, it tells a gripping story of two fine black families and their experience with health care for African-Americans in our society.
International Red Cross
by Ralf Perkins / Paperback: 32 pages / Franklin Watts (August 2000)
The Red Cross began in the mid-1800s, when one man told the world about the brutality of war.


Charles Richard Drew
The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences at Princton University.
Black History Month - Biography
Charles R. Drew (1904-1950). Surgeon and blood researcher
Charles Drew Biography
Drew has been considered one of the most honored and respected figures in the medical field and his development of the blood plasma bank has given a second chance of life to millions.
Red Cross History
Dr. Drew was instrumental in developing blood plasma processing and transfusion therapy, and his work with the Red Cross blood program during World War II laid the foundation for modern day blood banking. The Charles Drew Institute is the centerpiece of the Red Cross biomedical training system.
Red Gold - Innovators and Pioneers Series
Charles R. Drew was a renowned surgeon, teacher, and researcher. He was responsible for founding two of the world's largest blood banks. From the PBS Red Gold epic stroy of blood series.
Charles R. Drew University
The Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science at Los Angeles, California.

The Charles Drew Pre-Med Society
Founded in 1992, the Charles Drew Pre-Med Society of Amherst College was established as a support group for minority students who are interested in pursuing a medical career. However, in its current manifestation, the Society's membership has been extended to all Amherst College students who wish to pursue a career in medicine.
Charles Drew
In 1940, Dr. Drew was put in charge of a transfusion program for people in Britain wounded in World War II. Since British cities were being bombed daily for much of the war, there were many people who were badly wounded and in need of a transfusion. Article by Sharon Fabian  for Education Helper.

Give Blood
From its beginning, the American Red Cross has formed a community of service, of generous, strong and decent people bound by beliefs beyond themselves. The honor, spirit and resources of the American people comes forth with neighbors helping neighbors in need - during earthquakes, floods, fires, storms - and also for the deeply personal and often quiet disasters that require a gift of blood.

 "Dr. Drew was naturally great a keen intellect coupled with a retentive memory in a disciplined body, governed by a biological clock of untold energy. A personality altogether charming, flavored with mirth and wit, stamped him as my most brilliant pupil. He had a flare for organization and attention to detail; he was a physician who insisted upon adequate control in his experiments. These were the hallmarks of a budding scientist."  - Professor John Scudder, about his student Charles Drew

"All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came. " - John F. Kennedy

In the late 1930's it had only recently been discovered that people had different blood types -- A, B, AB, or O. A transfusion of the right type of blood could save a person's life. However, blood was perishable; it would only keep for about a week. Drew found a way to store blood much longer by using only the part of the blood called plasma. The use of dried plasma later made transfusions even more widely available.


  • On May 21, 1881, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross organization.
  • A 70's television show M*A*S*H episode S2E09, "Dear Dad...Three," Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre explain to a soldier who doesn't want "colored blood" the history of blood plasma, and use the life and death of Charles Drew as an example to sway his views on race.
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Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised January 30, 2007.

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