Looking Through Glass: Using Medicine Bottles to View the Culture of Health at Kooskia Internment Camp

My name is Kali D. V. Oliver, and I am a transfer student to the Department of Anthropology. Prior to coming to the University of Idaho, I spent the last few years working the in healthcare field. Having the chance to view the artifacts as they were being cleaned, I came across some pharmaceutical bottles that sparked my interest. Though all of these pieces are fascinating enough on their own, together they weave a story regarding the struggles Issei men faced between fusing a more traditional form of Eastern medicine and a more popularized form of Western medicine. How this fits into the process of trying to find a their niche within a society that promotes the individual is a truly interesting research question I hope to devote more time to in the future.

The pharmaceutical bottle indicated below (Figure 1),  has Japanese characters which have been translated into the name: Wakamoto.  Wakamoto Pharmaceutical Co., LLC focuses on gastrointestinal health products, which are also an ample source of vitamin B. This would have been an important source of traditional medicine and may have helped men cope with a more structured, government controlled diet or give them that extra vitamin boost needed for the daily manual labor they performed.  The Wakamoto Co. is still in operation today, and by collaborating with them in the future we may better source how the item ended up at the Kooskia Interment Camp.  Since there was a ban on imports from Japan during WWII, we are left with a few theories including: this product could have been brought as a personal item by an internee who was a pharmacist by profession, or could have been obtained through trade connections and brought into the camp by the Japanese internee from Fort Missoula, Montana Dr. Koba (who spent a few weeks as Kooskia Camp as medical personnel before he was found to have falsified his medical documentation (see Grace McBride’s blog) and sent back).                                                                                        10-2-317

Figure 1: Wakamoto Pharmaceutical Company Bottle, 1929-43. Gastrointestinal supplement that may also be used as nutritional boost for physical exhaustion.

Also, a bottle of Murine’s Eye Serum, a patent medicine (Figure 2) (Advertisement, Figure 3) was found in the collection.  Though archival data, I found that at any given time an average of 50% of the men working at Kooskia optical issues, including the need of glasses.  There have also been two pairs of glasses found in the collection. These two things would have been pertinent for so many men performing road work with dust particles flying everywhere.


Figure 2: A picture of the base of a Murine’s Eye Serum patent medicine bottle.
Figure 3: An advertisement for Murine.

Another fine example of the type of medicine available was on Owens-Illinois Co. druggist bottle (Figure 5) that most likely contained some sort of cough syrup.

Figure 4: Owens-Illinois Glass Company 1940, machine-made, 2 oz., Oval druggist bottle from Clarion Pennsylvania.

Other interesting health care issues include:

  • It was thought the drinking water was contaminated for a period of six months when they first opened the camp. Turns out it was a rather common and safe form of bacteria that was too hurriedly misdiagnosed. This was misconception was corrected by the second camp doctor, but had been chlorinated in the meantime.
  • There was also a petition by the internees for the reform of the received health care and the medical facility. This came during a month-long period where the camp was left without a doctor in unsafe work conditions.
  • There was a continual contention regarding the standard of medical equipment at the facility in case of emergencies since the nearest hospital (in which the government had contracts in place for health care of internees) was 60 miles away.
  • There were 17 accidents (no deaths), including a case where an internee was run down by a camp official who was speeding. Thankfully he was  able to get a ride to the hospital in the truck that hit him because even though there has been a designated car for medical emergencies, it had been on cinder blocks for over a month due to the carelessness of the camps first director, Mr. Remner.

Having noted this, most of the positive reformations were due to the persistence of the internees and reorganization of the hierarchy of camp officials half way thought the short two-year period.


Lindsey, Bill. “Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes: Medicinal/Chemical/Druggist Bottles.” 8 Jan. 2011. Bureau of Land                   Management. 10 April 2011. <http://www.sha.org/bottle/medicinal.htm#PatentandProprietaryMedical bottles>.

McKearin, George S., and Helen McKearin. American Glass. New York: Crown Publishers, 1948.

“Murine Eye Remedy Company.” Museum of Vision. 09 April 2011. <http://museumofvision.org/bios/?key=69&subkey=9&relkey=112&gt;.

Wakamoto Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. Product History. 2010. 09 April 2011. .

Wegars, Priscilla. Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Internee Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment                   Camp. Moscow: Asian American Comparative Collection, 2010.

Donated archival documentation pertaining to Kooskia Internment Camp from Dr. Priscilla Wegars.


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