Elmer Bobst's career began at age 17 when he left his father's parsonage in Lititz, Pennsylvania, where he had been born in 1884. He moved to Philadelphia and earned $3 a week clerking in a drugstore.
Bobst knew that getting an education would lead to a better future, but he did not have the funds to go to college. Thus, he purchased a set of secondhand books and proceeded to educate himself in pharmacy. By the time he was 21, he had passed both the Qualified Assistant and the Resident Manager pharmacy examinations. He next turned to law and prepared himself for a qualifying legal examination within nine months. However, he chose to remain in the pharmaceutical business and joined Hoffman-LaRoche & Company.
When he retired as its president in 1944, the company was an industry giant, and Bobst was one of the highest paid executives in American business. He later came out of retirement to head Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, the makers of Listerine and Dentyne chewing gum. In a 20-year period, Bobst directed the growth of this company to a 10-fold increase in volume.