Attention to 'details': Etiquette and the pharmaceutical salesman in postwar American

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57 Scopus citations


This paper provides a sketch of the emerging role of the pharmaceutical salesman, or 'detail man', in the growth years of the American post-World War II pharmaceutical industry. Using training manuals, trade literature, in-house company newsletters, memoirs, and a variety of other published sources, the paper follows the delicate tactics employed by salesmen and their managers in their attempts to recast drug salesmanship as a 'professional service' fulfilling vital functions within medical education. As they worked to legitimate their presence in the nation's hospitals and clinics, particular emphasis was given to precise management of the etiquette of doctor-salesman interaction. Ultimately, the techniques employed by mid-century salesmen and their managers were to prove successful in generating a widespread acceptance of the industry representative within the clinical spaces of hospital and clinic. Indeed, many of the practices of market research and market strategy employed across the pharmaceutical industry today have their origins in the practices of the individual detail man. Exploration of the postwar pharmaceutical salesman as an overlooked historical 'type' provides significant insights into the intersection of medicine and the consumer marketplace during the later 20th century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-292
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Consumerism
  • Drug industry
  • History of medicine
  • Influence
  • Marketing
  • Salesmanship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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