Charles Walgreen

Charles Walgreen was born Oct. 9, 1873, in Galesburg, Ill., according to His father, Carl Magnus Olofsson, changed the family name to Walgreen when he came to the U.S. from Sweden.

After losing part of his finger in a shoe factory accident, a doctor persuaded Walgreen to become an apprentice for a local pharmacist. In 1893, he went to Chicago and worked as a registered pharmacist in a small drugstore.

When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Walgreen enlisted with the 1st Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. He contracted malaria and yellow fever while serving in Cuba, which affected him for the rest of his life.

After Walgreen was discharged, he returned to Chicago to work for a pharmacist who sold the store to Walgreen when the pharmacist retired in 1902. Walgreen opened a second store in 1909 and owned nine drugstores by 1916, which he incorporated as Walgreen Co.

He brought changes to the industry, formulating large batches of his own medicines so he could sell the drugs at his stores at lower prices than his competitors; carrying nonpharmaceuticals as a chief part of the store's retail selection; offering low-priced lunch counters; and building an ice cream factory.

By 1927, Walgreen had 110 stores. The company continued to prosper, even during the Great Depression. Walgreen died in 1939, and the $500,000 payout from his life insurance policy was used to establish a pension plan for the company's employees.

Following are several interesting facts about Charles Walgreen and Walgreens stores:

  • The father of former U.S. vice president Hubert Humphrey was an early Walgreens franchisee.
  • When Ronald Reagan was young, he briefly worked as Walgreen's golf caddy.
  • Walgreens invented the malted milkshake in 1922.
  • Walgreens helped celebrate the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. It opened four stores on the Century of Progress fairgrounds that experimented with ideas, such as new lighting techniques, that helped modernize the appearance of drugstores.
  • Walgreens became the first drugstore chain to offer prescription labels in multiple languages chainwide; labels currently can be printed in 14 languages.

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