Hook's Drug Stores were Indiana fixtures throughout most of the twentieth century. Founder John A. Hook opened his first Indianapolis store in 1900 in a building at 1101 S. East Street (now the Fountain Square neighborhood; the building has since been demolished). By 1914, there were eight Hook's Drug Stores and, by 1950, fifty stores. In the 1990s the Hook's Drug Store name was retired after a series of takeovers and consolidations, although many of its locations survive as CVS stores. The legacy of Hook's Drug Stores continues with this museum.
Drug Store Museum, 1966 Through the Present
Hook's Drug Store Museum was intended as a three-month exhibition for the 1966 fair, but it became permanent because of huge attendance at that fair and continued strong interest. The museum re-creates the look and ambiance of an Indiana drugstore around the turn of the twentieth century, with its mixture of antiques from the late 1800s and early 1900s: a soda fountain, cabinets, fixtures, furniture, and artifacts. To some extent it is also a functioning drugstore, selling some over-the-counter remedies and old-style candies and merchandise when it is open during state fairs and at various other times during the year.
The Building's Original Purpose for Better Babies Contests, 1927-1932
The museum is housed in a building originally constructed on the fairgrounds for a different purpose. This building was selected, in part, because its original footprint (the rooms that now contain the soda fountain and the store) is about the same size as a drugstore like John Hook's original. This building was originally the Better Babies Building, constructed in 1927 with a $5000 special state government appropriation to house the heavily-attended Better Babies Contests, during which physicians and psychologists weighed, measured, and tested mental abilities of contestants with the goal of identifying Indiana's most perfect babies.
Cherished by the public and held annually during state fairs from 1920 to 1932, Better Babies Contests initially were a part of efforts to reduce infant mortality. However, these contests were also influenced by the worldwide eugenics social movement that lasted from about the late 1800s to the mid-1930s. Using the terminology of that time: The eugenics movement focused on caucasians, seeking "improvement of the race" by fostering marriages of "the fit" and "healthful rearing of their children." Proponents of this movement also sought to prevent conception of babies by "the unfit": criminals, "the insane," epileptics, and "the feebleminded" (intellectual disabilities).
Better Babies Contest ratings were initially based on normative child development milestones but, in an effort to standardize ratings, organizers created scorecards like those for judging livestock. The influence of animal breeding on Better Babies Contests is unmistakable. For example, Governor Samuel M. Ralston declared at a 1915 awards ceremony, "I've been to cattle shows and stock shows . . . I want Indiana to pay as much attention to the blood of the children it raises as the farmer pays to the blood of the future pigs." After the last Better Babies Contest in 1932, the Indiana State Fair used this building for a variety of purposes until remodeling and repurposing it in 1966 as the Hook's Drug Store Museum.