Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D. C. He was very athletic as a child. Charles attended Dunbar High School where he won letters in track, baseball, basketball and football. He won the James E. Walker Memorial Medal as outstanding all-around athlete.
Charles attended Amherst College in Massachusetts on a scholarship. He was named an all-American halfback and won the Thomas W. Ashley Memorial Trophy as the Most Valuable Player on Amherst's football team. He graduated in 1926 and received the Howard Hill Mossman trophy for his outstanding contributions to Amherst sports.
Drew was always interested in science and wanted to pursue a medical career. He attended medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He participated in sports while in medical school and won many championships. He was captain of the track team and won the all-time top score at McGill in intercollegiate track competition. Drew graduated from McGill in 1933. That year he won the annual prize in neuroanatomy, the study of the structure of the nervous system, and the Williams Prize, passing an examination and scoring in the top five in his class.
He interned at the Royal Victoria and Montreal General Hospitals. In 1935, he became an instructor in pathology at Howard University Medical School in Washington, DC. In addition to teaching, he was assistant surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. In 1938, he was awarded a Rockefeller fellowship to continue his studies at Columbia University in New York City. He began a residency in surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and devoted his research to studying blood transfusions and the storing of blood.
During his research he discovered that plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood that does not contain cells, could be dried and stored for an extended period of time without deteriorating. This great discovery was noted worldwide. In 1939, he received a gran from the Blood Transfusion Association and opened a blood storage bank at the Columbia Presybterian Hospital. In 1940, Charles Drew received a doctor of science degree. He became the first African American to be awarded this degree. During World War II, one of Drew's former instructors, John Beattie, was Director of Research Laboratories at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
He was in charge of blood transfusions for the Royal Air Force and asked Drew to assist him in providing blood. Drew took thousands of pints of dried plasma to England and was named medical supervisor of blood for Great Britain. He organized a system of volunteer blood donors and centralized the collection of donated blood where he processed the blood and separated out the plasma. In 1949, he was appointed a surgical consultant for the Army's European Theater of Operations. On April 1, 1950, he gave at speech at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At two o'clock in the morning, he left the city with three other doctors in the car, to travel back home after an exhausting day.
He fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road. He was killed and the other doctors suffered minor injuries. Although his life was cut short at the age of 46, the techniques he developed for storing and transfusing blood continue to be used to save lives. In 1981, the U. S. Postal Service issued a stamp in the Great Americans series in his honor.
In 1966, the Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School was incorporated in the State of California as a private, non-profit, educational institution.