Dr. Charles Drew
Tech History

Dr. Charles Drew – Black History Month

Inspired by a recent blood appointment, it occurred to me that there had to have been pioneers to blood drives and blood storage. Low and behold, we have Dr. Charles Drew to thank. 

Dr. Charles Drew developed ways to process and store blood plasma in where we now call “blood banks”


Dr. Drew went to Amherst College on a football scholarship and completed his bachelor’s degree at Amherst in 1926. Drew did not immediately go to medical school due to a lack of finances and would teach at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) before enrolling to McGill University in 1928.

By graduation in 1933, Drew would win a prize in neuroanatomy, become an Omega Psi Phi alumni,  be second in his class and earn both Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees. It would be in his residency at Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital that he would research alongside Dr. John Beattie and examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions. He’d return to the States and became an instructor at Howard University’s medical school after his father’s death.

Scientific Contributions

After a few more years, Dr. Drew was offered a fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City working with John Scudder and develop a method for processing and preserving blood plasma or blood without cells. He discovered that plasma could be dried and would last longer. His research served as the basis of his doctorate thesis, “Banked Blood”. Drew would come to spearhead the efforts of “Blood for Britain” during World War II, collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma, as well as for the American Red Cross for only a few months due to the military’s ‘blood segregation’ at the time. While operating the blood banks, he would ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination prior to shipping out.

Awards & Honors

Drew became the first African-American to earn this degree from Columbia University in 1940. Following his blood drive efforts, he would serve as a professor at Howard University’s department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for “the highest and noblest achievement” by an African-American.



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