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Dr. Charles Drew

Paiting of Charles Drew
Charles Drew by Betsy Graves Reyneau
Biography >> Civil Rights >> Inventors and Scientists

Charles Drew was an African-American doctor and scientist in the early 1900s. His work on blood storage and blood banks helped to save thousands of lives during World War II.

Where did Charles Drew grow up?

Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. He grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood of Washington, D.C. called Foggy Bottom with his two younger sisters and a younger brother. His father worked in the carpet industry where he earned a nice middle-class living.

Education and Sports

Charles' main interest in school was sports. He was a standout athlete in many sports including football, basketball, track, and baseball. After high school, Charles attended Amherst College where he received a scholarship to play sports.

Medical School

During college Charles became interested in medicine. He attended the McGill Medical School in Canada. While attending medical school Charles became interested in the qualities of blood and how blood transfusions worked. Only a few years earlier, an Austrian doctor named Karl Landsteiner had discovered blood types. In order for a blood transfusion to work, the blood types needed to match.

Charles graduated from medical school in 1933. He finished second in his class. He later did graduate work at Columbia University where he became the first African-American to earn a Doctor of Medical Science degree.

Researching Blood

As a doctor and a researcher, Charles' main passion was blood transfusions. At the time, medical science did not have a good way of preserving blood. Blood needed to be fresh, and this made it very difficult to find the right blood type when a transfusion was needed.

Charles studied blood and its different properties. Scientists soon learned that blood plasma, the liquid portion of blood, could be preserved more easily and then used for transfusions. They also discovered that plasma could be dried to make it easier to ship. Charles used this research to develop ways to mass produce blood plasma.

World War II

When World War II began, the United States needed a way to mass produce blood plasma in order to save the lives of wounded troops. Charles worked with the British on the "Blood for Britain" program to help them develop a blood bank for the war. He then helped to develop the blood bank for the American Red Cross.

Charles worked as the director for the American Red Cross blood bank until he was told to separate white people's blood from black people's blood. He strongly disagreed with this order. He told the US War Department that "there is absolutely no scientific basis to indicate any difference in human blood from race to race." He promptly resigned as director.

Death and Legacy

Charles Drew died from internal injuries after a car accident on April 1, 1950. He was only 45 years old, but accomplished much and saved many lives through his research efforts into blood.

Interesting Facts about Dr. Charles Drew

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    Works Cited

    Biography >> Civil Rights >> Inventors and Scientists

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