Majors Bookstore: A Centennial Retrospective

Majors Scientific Books Inc. was founded in 1909 as J.A. Majors Company, the oldest and largest medical book distributor in the country.

John Albert Majors worked his way through medical school by selling books to doctors during summer vacations and in between busy school and athletic schedules. After graduating from the University of Nashville College of Medicine (later became University of Tennessee at Memphis), Dr. Majors needed financing to begin his medical career so he continued selling books. What started as a part-time job became a lifetime profession in the medical book business.

It may have been the burden of carrying the heavy Saunders clinical tomes around his territory, because in 1909 Dr. Majors established his first headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana. At that time, he told all medical book publishers of his desire to stock their books and represent them in the South. His first bookstore was located on Tulane Avenue across from the prestigious Tulane medical school.

In 1912, he married Lenox Dare Harcourt of Mineral Wells. Following a honeymoon on a cruise through the newly opened Panama Canal, they returned to enjoy life in New Orleans. However, within two years, a decision was made to move the headquarters from New Orleans to Texas, perhaps indicating that the young bride developed a strong voice early in the marriage.

One must wonder how much they may have learned on the Panama cruise about the thousands of mosquito related deaths of the construction workers and resulting concerns of the west Texas young bride to the mosquito threat along the Mississippi.

After moving to Texas in 1914, a second bookstore was opened in Dallas, the commercial center of North Texas where key railroads crossed (1914 was coincidently the founding date for the Dallas Medical Journal). The Majors location was downtown on Olive Street and later the bookstore was moved to the ground floor of the modern new Medical Arts building, despite the inconvenience of having its warehouse in the basement.

Most business owners of the day built homes east of downtown in the Swiss Avenue area; however, Dr. and Mrs. Majors wanted fresh milk and since a cow was not allowed in the city limits, they bought a lot in a subdivision a few miles north of Dallas in the new Highland Park Township. They did what many others did.

They built a garage with an apartment above to live in until the house was completed a couple of years later. They joined the Dallas Country Club located then just north of Downtown along Turtle Creek, before it was conveniently moved to Beverly Drive in Highland Park, just a few blocks from the Major's new home.

The bookstores in Dallas and New Orleans grew sales rapidly as newly opened medical and nursing schools across the South led to more class book needs, in addition to clinical book sales to practicing doctors. Dr. Majors attended the AMA meetings annually and continued calling on his physician friends while his managers worked to keep up with the expanding textbook sales. By the 1940's the new "miracle drugs," such as insulin, penicillin, and sulpha drugs, led to additional medical discoveries and a flourishing medical publishing business.

In 1931, the LSU Medical School opened between Charity Hospital and Tulane Medical Center and just across from Major's bookstore. In 1939 Blackwell Scientific Publishers was founded; F.A. Davis published its first Tabers Dictionary in 1940; 1941 saw the first edition of Goodman's & Gilman's landmark pharmacology text book; 1943 brought us the first edition of Grant's Atlas; in 1945 Facts & Comparisons first published drug information in binders for pharmacists; and in 1947 PDR published its first edition of drug information for doctors. As a result of all the above, it was no wonder Majors opened a third location in 1948 in Atlanta's downtown hospital district.

The 50's brought many other exciting changes; such as the first successful kidney transplant; the introduction of the Salk vaccine to control polio; the first building completed on UT Southwestern's modern campus on Harry Hines; the start up of McGraw Hill's medical division; the start up of Little Brown's medical division; the first edition of Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, selling for $12; and in 1959, Gray's Anatomy's 27th edition at a cost of $17.50 (the first edition published in 1858).

The medical advances of the 50's resulted in Dr. Majors and his sons, John Jr., Bill and son-in-law, Jack McClendon, opening a fourth bookstore location in Houston's famed Texas Medical Center in 1956. Dr. Majors died in 1963 at the age of 91, but the growth of Majors continued under the management of the second generation. They managed the company during several decades of rapid expansion of medical centers and medical education across the country. In 1964, the Houston branch expanded into the sic-tech market, maintaining an inventory of books in business, geosciences, electronics, chemistry, physics, and other highly specialized fields.
In 1986, Majors acquired Medical & Technical Books in Los Angeles, California, giving the company a coast-to-coast distribution network. The 90's began with the transition to the third generation of Majors family management. Expansion continued at this time with the addition of bookstores in Long Beach and Ft. Worth and the introduction of new web technology, all while maintaining the same personal service philosophy of their prior generations.

In 2004, the Majors wholesale business was acquired by Baker & Taylor, the country's largest distributor of books and music. The merger provided Baker & Taylor's customers with access to one source for trade and medical product. It also provided the customers of J.A. Majors Company access to five warehouses across the country with both medical and trade books to meet all needs. The Majors family retained the bookstore corporation known as Majors Scientific Books, Inc., with three stores, one in Dallas and two in Houston. Both of the ten thousand square foot stores in the Dallas and Houston medical centers were the largest health science bookstores in the country.

In 2011 Majors Books in Dallas became part of Mathews Medical & Scientific Books, which had its beginning as a retailer of Health and Science books in St Louis Missouri in 1889. The staff is looking forward to the years ahead serving the highly specialized needs of the premier medical communities across the country.

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