Following the Civil War, local markets became regional and competition in the wholesale drug business became fierce. Price-cutting and unreasonable payment terms threatened to drive reputable wholesalers out of business.

Augustus Kiefer convinced fellow wholesalers to fight back and created the Western Wholesale Drug Association (WWDA) in March 1876 to represent the wholesalers in states across the Appalachians like Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Supportive of Kiefer’s effort to bring together reputable wholesalers in the industry, Daniel Stewart offered space at Daniel Stewart & Company in Indianapolis for the WWDA’s first headquarters.

To reflect the industry’s rapid expansion across the country, the WWDA changed its name to the National Wholesale Drug Association. Within just a few years, it would become the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association (NWDA).

Mahlon N. Kline joined a Philadelphia shop run by John K. Smith, who would later become the “K” in global giant GSK. Kline served as NWDA president from 1885-1886, during which he taught NWDA members how to work Capitol Hill as chairman of the legislative committee and the “drug wholesalers’ man” in Washington.

NWDA members outside the U.S. Treasury in Washington D.C. after an 1890 meeting with President Benjamin Harrison.

NWDA regularly collaborated with organizations like the National Association of Retail Druggists (today’s National Community Pharmacists Association) on legislative efforts and with the Proprietary Association (today’s Consumer Healthcare Products Association) to hold conventions.

To ensure purity and keep inferior products off the market, NWDA enforced price fixing arrangements. After the Supreme Court ruled against the practice, NWDA gave up that activity for good and shifted their focus to ensuring safety through legislative means, helping shape the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the foundation for modern drug regulation.

In the first half of the century, NWDA helps members cope with prohibition, depression and two world wars. Throughout, it is a steadfast champion of the independent drug stores that NWDA members serve and continues to seek safe and efficient ways to deliver healthcare.

To support soldiers coming home from war, NWDA worked with the Red Cross to train those wounded in combat to work in the industry.

In the era of Prohibition, everyone wanted to become a wholesale druggist after the Justice Department deemed them the only firms eligible to handle liquor and alcohol in bulk. NWDA submitted a paragraph-long statement to The New York Times scrupulously opposing fraudsters who did not fit their description of a legitimate wholesale druggist. Throughout the Prohibition era, NWDA helped curb narcotics and ensured the legitimate use of alcohol.

A distinguished teacher with a Master’s in Pharmacy, Edwin Leigh “Doc” Newcomb became NWDA’s first executive vice president, building up the administrative backbone of the organization in this role until his death in 1950.

Depression unemployment turned into a labor shortage during World War II as workers on the home front left old jobs for new, high-paying “war work.” The hard-hit drug wholesalers mounted an all-out campaign, printing posters for manufacturing plants with messages like “Your Drug Job is Vital to Victory” and “Drug Men are Guarding the Health Front.”

NWDA tapped Ohio State University marketing experts to reimagine an entirely new type of layout for wholesaler warehouses, which included longer aisles, moving belts, “and roller skates for order pickers.” The skates never caught on, but Albert Fisher, author of the influential warehouse study, served as NWDA’s director of research for many years afterwards.

The post-war consumer boom and pharmaceutical revolution led to tremendous industry growth. During this time, NWDA helped members benefit from industry expertise and began to reinvent itself.

Building upon its efforts campaigning for fair trade laws on behalf of independent druggist, NWDA produced films and publications, like the humorous “Clyde Earnest” campaign, with practical tips for boosting independent sales.

In one of NWDA’s first efforts to promote the role of wholesalers to the general public, the organization teamed up with LIFE to publish an easy-to-understand book to educate the American public on the healthcare supply chain.

The Timothy Patrick Barry, Jr. Award was created to recognize industry participants showing “good sportsmanship in the conduct of his or her personal life.” Now named the Nexus Award for Lifetime Achievement, it is the distribution industry’s highest honor.

Executive Vice President Harry Kimbriel proposed an award akin to an “Industrial Oscar” to recognize manufacturers with effective programs that furthered wholesale efforts, and so the DIANA was born.

Everything changed in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Kefauver-Harris Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, enabling the FDA to determine whether drugs are “safe and effective.” In response, NWDA devised recall procedures and in 1968 urged prompt adoption of 9-digit product codes or “NDCs” for the industry to more easily track drugs and increase safety. They were approved by the FDA the next year.

With many independent drug stores having given way to chains, NWDA helped its members compete with direct sellers through technology and consolidation. NWDA also moved to Washington, D.C. to help shape federal drug policy.

In the mid-1970s, NWDA published The Computer: A Processing Perspective to help smaller member firms effectively adopt new technologies. In 1978, NWDA created a computerized order entry clearinghouse linking manufacturers to wholesalers nationwide.

NWDA created a non-profit research organization, the Research and Education Foundation, which later became the Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research in the early 2000s.

The Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA) of 1987 took effect, allowing states to write their own rules, which created a patchwork of regulations. NWDA compiled reference materials for members and began pushing for uniform federal standards over the next two decades.

In the late 1980s, the 20-year effort to boost efficiency through technology began to show diminishing returns. In response, NWDA President and CEO Charles Trefrey spearheaded the “Breakthrough Project” to push for better wholesaler-manufacturer relations, improved logistics, and effective data exchange to lower industry costs.

During this time period the industry continues to emphasize the use of technology to drive efficiencies, such as using scanning and radio transmission in warehouse operations.

NWDA was renamed the Healthcare Distribution Management Association (HDMA). Out of a commitment to supply chain security and continuing cost pressures, HDMA worked with fewer active members to strengthen the supply chain.

As old requirements for recalls merged with new concerns about security, HDMA explored the use of electronic coding to establish a “product pedigree” to digitally track and trace drugs through the supply chain. These efforts and HDMA advocacy helped lead to passage of the 2013 Drug Supply Chain Security Act.   

HDMA, through its Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research, commissioned Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct the first comprehensive study of the critical role and value distributors provide to the healthcare supply chain, which would lead to follow-up studies in 2007 and 2011.

Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, HDMA members were mobilizing, and hours after it ended they used every means to restock hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics. To help ensure an even faster response to future emergencies, HDMA joined a consortium of other industry groups and the Red Cross to create Rx Response (now Healthcare Ready).

After nearly 140 years of improving healthcare distribution in America, HDMA took a global step, organizing the first International Pharmaceutical Distribution Conference (IPDC) in Beijing, China, and drawing members and supply chain participants from throughout Asia to exchange information and expertise on traceability, anti-counterfeiting, and safety. Building on this successful conference, the association teamed with international partners to host subsequent IPDCs in Brussels (2015) and London (2016).

The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 (S. 483) was signed by President Barack Obama in April 2016, marking the association’s second legislative victory in three years. HDMA members first created the concept for the legislation, sought and secured legislative champions on both sides of the aisle, and successfully gained the support of many pharmacy, patient, and provider groups to ensure the bill’s ultimate passage.

In the association’s 140th year of representing pharmaceutical distributors, HDMA was renamed the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) in June 2016, and the Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research became the HDA Research Foundation.

As HDA, the organization’s identity now better reflects the breadth of its members’ work and the value they provide across the supply chain, positioning the organization to continue to help industry members adapt to change the same way it has throughout its long-standing history.

The new HDA was featured in a week-long print and digital ad campaign appearing in Politico, Washington’s leading political and policy news organization.