Labor Hall of Fame Honoree (2006)
Charles R. Walgreen
"We believe that honest goods can
be sold to honest people by honest
Charles Rudolph Walgreen was the founder and first president of Walgreen Co., a pharmacy chain which today employs nearly 200,000 workers, in more than 5,400 stores in 47 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. He was born on October 9, 1873, on a farm near Rio, Illinois. His parents were Swedish immigrants. Charles attended high school in Dixon, Illinois until the age of 16. He then moved on to the Dixon Business College and one year later entered the work force.
Walgreen moved to Chicago in 1893, and his life reached a turning point under the employ of a Mr. Valentine of Valentine's Drug Store in Chicago, Illinois. After hiring Walgreen as a clerk, Valentine recognized the young man's hard work ethic, and encouraged him to take on more management duties. Valentine also encouraged him to study the pharmacy texts kept at the store in preparation for becoming a licensed pharmacist. Walgreen acquired his first store in 1901. In 1902, Walgreen married Myrtle Norton and began devoting his energies toward bettering his business.
The young entrepreneur's strategy for growth was two-fold. First, he emphasized customer service and friendliness combined with professionalism, a credo that separated Walgreen's drugstores from the numerous other outfits in the city. Secondly, he sought to innovate. An example of this was the prominent role of the soda fountain in Walgreen's stores, which at the time was America's equivalent of a modern fast-food restaurant. In 1920, one of Walgreen's employees invented the milkshake.
Walgreen also sought to maintain a healthy work environment for his employees. He achieved this by including opportunities for partnerships at every store, giving bonuses and stock offerings, and promoting from within company ranks. The company's turnover rate, then and now, remains among the lowest in the retail sector.
On December 9, 1939, at the age of 66, Charles Walgreen Sr. died of cancer. By this time, the board of the Walgreen Co. had already elected his son, Charles Jr., company president. Later, his grandson, Charles R. Walgreen III, headed the company for nearly three decades until his retirement as chairman in 1999. The founder's great-grandson, Kevin, is a senior vice president with Walgreens today.