Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Ted Hustead in front of Wall Drug, ca. 1932

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Wall Drug is a world-famous attraction located in Wall, South Dakota. The community of Wall is situated on the east "wall" of the Badlands, just fifty-four miles southeast of Rapid City. Wall Drug began as a country pharmacy serving local farmers and ranchers and the residents of a small, western South Dakota community.

In the early years of the Depression, Theodore Edward Hustead, a recent graduate of pharmacy school, purchased the existing drugstore in Wall using a three-thousand-dollar inheritance from his father. Because local farmers and ranchers were dried out, they had little money to spend in town. For a number of years, Ted and his wife and partner, Dorothy, noticed a steady stream of autos headed west on Route 16A. The problem was that very few of these autos were taking the time to pull off the two-lane highway. In the summer of 1936, during a particularly hot spell, Dorothy had the inspiration of offering free ice water to travelers. Ted immediately set to work making signs, modeled after the old Burma Shave highway signs. Each phrase of the message was written on a board, and all the boards were then placed along the highway, spaced so that people could read each sign as they drove along. Advertising a free, desirable product to get people into the store proved to be immensely successful. More than sixty years later, with many signs located in far-off places, Wall Drug has grown to a 76,000-square-foot complex that includes two malls. A thirsty traveler can still find free ice water there, along with five-cent coffee.

Sheila R. Aaker Black Hills State University

Hustead, Ted. "Wall and Water." Guideposts (July 1982): 34–37.

Jennings, Dana Close. Free Ice Water! The Story of Wall Drug. Aberdeen SD: North Plains Press, 1969.

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