My husband and I recently road tripped to Deadwood, SD for our anniversary. He didn’t know Deadwood was an actual place. He thought it was just a series on HBO. What a wonderful learning experience our trip turned out to be! I told him before we embarked on this great American road trip that we would have to stop at Wall Drug on the way to Deadwood. “What is Wall Drug? A pharmacy?” Well…kind of.
In 1931 Ted Hustead purchased the small pharmacy in the town Wall, population 231. Wall is located smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It was the depression, business was slow.
Ted’s wife, Dorothy, had an idea that put Wall Drug on the map. She thought they should advertise free ice water to travellers heading along I-90. Free ice water wasn’t anything special, at the time it was common for drug stores to give away free ice water. Ted thought it was a silly idea, but put up the billboard anyways. It worked! Soon people were lining up for their free ice water.
Ted saw what advertising could do for him and went billboard bananas. During the 60’s Wall Drug had 3,000+ highway signs. He insisted on painted wood signs. In his words, “Painted wood isn’t as fun to shoot as enameled metal.” The billboards aren’t limited to South Dakota. Wall Drug spends around $400,000 a year on billboards along I-90 from Minnesota to Montana. You can also find signs in Antarctica, Afghanistan, Paris, Kenya, London and at the Taj Mahal.
In the 70’s Ted’s son Bill took over Wall Drug. He was embarrassed because there were so many signs and when you arrived it was just your everyday small town store. He wanted to turn it into something special. He did just that. Thanks to Bill we now have the weird and wonderful tourist trap you see today. In the Wall Drug Back Yard you’ll find a 6’ tall rabbit on wheels, a jackalope, a life-size t-rex and photo ops galore.
Wall Drug employs almost 1/3 of Wall’s residents. What if Ted hadn’t listened to Dorothy? Where would Wall be without advertising? And how boring would the drive through South Dakota be without Wall Drug’s billboards to keep us entertained? I suppose there’s always the Corn Palace.