The formal establishment of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota was preceded by the founding of the College of Medicine and Surgery in 1888.

At that time, Dr. H. M. Bracken was appointed professor of materia medica and therapeutics. Materia medica and therapeutics was the forerunner of pharmacology in medical schools worldwide. Pharmacology as a medical school discipline had come into being only 30 years earlier in Germany, and had not yet been introduced into American medical schools.

A department of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota was approved in 1906, but not established until 1913. Before 1913, pharmacology, the study of how drugs and chemicals interact with the systems of the body, was a specialty within the field of physiology. In 1913, the Department of Pharmacology was established, with Dr. Arthur Hirschfelder appointed as professor and as the first head of the department. He served as department head until 1942. Dr. Raymond Bieter served as head from 1942 to 1962, and Dr. Frederick E. Shideman served as head from 1962 to 1989. From 1989-2012, Dr. Horace H. Loh held the appointment of head of the Department of Pharmacology. Dr. Jill M. Siegfried was appointed department head in 2013, the year that also marks our department centennial.

The Department of Pharmacology was initially located in the "old" Millard Hall. The "new" Millard Hall and the Institute of Anatomy (now Jackson Hall) were built in 1912. The department was located in the "new" Millard Hall for many years. In 1996, Nils Hasselmo Hall was built (originally called Basic Sciences/Biomedical Engineering Building) and the majority of the pharmacology faculty moved into offices and laboratories in that building. In 1998, Millard Hall was demolished and Jackson Hall was renovated. The department's administrative offices moved into the 6th floor of Jackson Hall (its present location) in 1999. Currently, the laboratories of the pharmacology faculty are located across the Medical School footprint on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, and the buildings of the Biomedical Discovery District north of TCF Bank Stadium.

History of the Graduate Program

When the Department of Pharmacology was formed in 1913, the Medical School offered 30 three-year teaching fellowships with stipend, to be given to students studying for the doctor of philosophy degree in the medical sciences. By the mid-1920s, pharmacology had two of these fellowships. They were awarded to individuals who wished to become research workers and remain in academic medicine. The first MS degrees were awarded in 1921 to Herman Jensen and John Quigley and the first Ph.D. was awarded in 1924 to Herman Jensen (thesis title: An Experimental Study of Certain Benzyl Compounds with Special Attention to the Importance of Substitution in the Benzyl Nucleus and the Significance of the Side Chains).

Since the initial awarding of the degrees, the Department of Pharmacology has conferred over 350 Ph.D. degrees and over 75 MS degrees, with most of our graduates continuing their careers either in academics or industrial pharmacology research. Among the notable graduates, Dr. Louis Ignarro, class of 1966, received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work on demonstrating that nitric oxide, NO, is the gaseous second messenger serving as a vasodilator, which is the principle behind important pharmaceutical agents such as nitroglycerin, minoxidil, and sildenafil citrate (generally known under the trade name Viagra). Many graduates of our department have risen to leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry and academia.