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12 america™s corner s tore

recorded in Upton Sinclair™s classic The Jungle in 1906. When Sinclair ar-
rived in Chicago to begin his seven-week study of the stockyards, which he
called “rivers of death,” he was first struck by the city™s “elemental odor,
raw and crude; it was rich, almost rancid, sensual and strong.”18 While the
novel ultimately did little to forward Sinclair™s socialist theories, it did
prompt President Theodore Roosevelt to create the Food and Drug
Administration [FDA], which, among other things, governs the conduct
of the pharmaceuticals to this day.)
The stockyards added immeasurably to the misery of Chicago”the
smell often wafted across the entire city”but they were far from the only
source of unpleasantness. The city burned so much coal that, during win-
ter days, visibility extended just one block. The noise from trolleys, trains,
and carriages made leaving windows open during the stultifying summers
impossible. Even if the streets were silent, keeping your windows closed
would have probably been advisable anyway, just to protect your nose from
the pungent smells of open trash, horse manure, and fetid animal corpses
rotting on the streets and in the river. It is not surprising that in 1885 one-
tenth of the city”about 80,000 people then”died from an outbreak of
cholera and typhoid from fouled water. (You can appreciate why so many
residents sought succor from their local druggist, the most trusted man on
their block, then and now.)
And there was more. Larson wrote:

Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains
that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step
from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on av-
erage two people were destroyed at the city™s rail crossings. Their in-
juries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There
were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted
and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In
describing the fire dead, the term the papers most liked to use was
“roasted.” There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And
there was murder. [By the 1890s] the rate at which men and women

from humble beginnings 13

killed one another rose sharply throughout the nation but especially
in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower
or expertise to manage the volume. In the first six months of 1892
the city experienced nearly eight hundred violent deaths. Four a day.
Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument or sexual jealousy.
Men shot women, women shot men, and children shot one another
by accident.”19

French editor Octave Uzanne called it, “that Gordian city, so excessive,
so satanic.” Rudyard Kipling went one better. “Having seen it, I desire
never to see it again,” he said in 1890. “It is inhabited by savages.”20
Chicago was desperate to change its reputation, both in the United
States and overseas. The way to do so, it believed, was not by improving
inch by inch, but by taking a gigantic leap forward. All agreed that topping
Paris, with the world watching, would do the trick. But first, the city of
smelly stockyards had to beat out both New York and Washington, D.C.,
for the bid for the Exposition. If Chicago could win Congress™s eighth bal-
lot, cast on February 24, 1890, it “would dispel at last the Eastern percep-
tion that Chicago was nothing more than a greedy, hog-slaughtering
backwater; failure would bring humiliation from which the city would not
soon recover; given how heartily its leading men had boasted that Chicago
would prevail. It was this big talk, not the persistent southwesterly breeze,
that had prompted New York editor Charles Anderson Dana to nickname
Chicago ˜the Windy City.™”21
When a Tribune employee posted the final results of the vote, the wait-
ing crowd erupted in joy, literally dancing in the streets; and the city lead-
ers got to work. “Make no little plans,” the legendary architect Daniel
Burnham wrote, in a statement that could serve as Walgreens™ official
motto. “They have no magic to stir men™s blood.”22
In little more than two years, Burnham™s band of architects, builders,
and organizers created a gorgeous square-mile park from swamp land and
erected some 200 buildings on it. The biggest of them, the Manufacturers
and Liberal Arts Building, was big enough to house the U.S. Capitol, the

14 america™s corner s tore

Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and St.
Paul™s Cathedral, all at the same time.
The structure that drew the most attention, however, was a colossal
contraption created by a young man named George Ferris. The Ferris
Wheel became the fair™s emblem, “a machine so huge and terrifying,”
Larson wrote, “that it instantly eclipsed the tower of Alexander Eiffel that
had so wounded America™s pride.”23 Chicago™s Fair also introduced Cracker
Jack, Shredded Wheat, and the Pledge of Allegiance (which, as an aside,
did not have the words “under God”; they were added in 1954). Of longer-
lasting value to the city of Chicago, however, was the use of safe electric-
ity and clean drinking water that the Exposition brought about.
As Newsweek™s Malcolm Jones said, the Chicago Exposition represented
“America™s chance to prove that, technologically and culturally, it could
sit at the grown-ups™ table. The fair™s directors gambled everything. And
they won, seducing the world with the architecture of Louis Sullivan and
the technology of Edison.”24
“There is in the life of any great city a moment when it reaches its max-
imum potential as a center of power and culture and becomes fully con-
scious of its special place in history,” Miller wrote. “For Chicago that
moment was 1893.”25
The fair™s guests included Susan B. Anthony, Archduke Ferdinand, Jane
Addams, George Westinghouse, Clarence Darrow, Philip Armour, and
Marshall Field. They were joined by 27.5 million others, almost half the
entire U.S. population in 1890, including two people who were utterly un-
known at the time but who would rank among the city™s most prominent
figures when the World™s Fair returned to Chicago in 1933: Charles
Walgreen Sr. and Myrtle Norton.

the state of the profession

Another visitor to the World™s Columbian Exposition, a man who went by
the name of Dr. Holmes, set up a pharmacy just a few blocks from the

from humble beginnings 15

grand event”and not far from the drugstore where Walgreen started
working. Dr. Holmes made national headlines two years later when police
discovered he had murdered dozens of unsuspecting young women (and a
few children) in his specially designed killing chambers located in the
basement of his store. Erik Larson turned the horrifying story of Dr.
Holmes into a 2002 best seller, The Devil in the White City.
While Dr. Holmes™s criminal record isn™t important for our purposes
here, his well-documented dual careers in medicine and pharmacy go a
long way toward demonstrating just how rudimentary those fields were
when Charles Walgreen Sr. entered the pharmacy profession. Holmes also
serves as the perfect foil to Walgreen, the duo representing the two faces
of the field as practiced a hundred years ago.
To understand how Walgreens changed the way drugstores operate in
our country forever”by providing uncommonly honest advice and effi-
cient service; by finding new ways to educate customers; by insisting on
raising the professional standards of the pharmacy profession and, espe-
cially, those of its own pharmacists; and by working in close cooperation
with doctors instead of at odds with them”you have to understand the
environment in which the chain was born, and grew.
Like medicine, pharmacy had a checkered past until the twentieth cen-
tury, when both disciplines emerged from the shadows of superstition and
charlatanism to the clear light of rigorous scientific research and objective
professional standards.
People have been mixing concoctions and finding herbal remedies to
cure what ails them since the beginning of time, but most historians credit
Babylon with the birth of an organized apothecary.26 The ancient Roman
Galen (A.D. 131“201) “created a system of pathology and therapy that
ruled western medicine for 1,500 years,” according to Edward Kremers and
George Urdang™s authoritative History of Pharmacy, in explaining why his
reputation endures to this day.27
The art of pharmacy remained a sketchy matter for centuries, especially
as practiced by witch doctors, priest-kings, and alchemists; but bit by bit,
societies saw the need for a more structured approach and acted accord-

16 america™s corner s tore

ingly. As the Dark Ages began to give way to the Renaissance, public phar-
macies and universities started spreading across Europe, a movement
capped by German Emperor Frederick II™s proclamation, delivered about
1240, “that was to be the Magna Carta of the profession of pharmacy,”
Kremers and Urdang wrote. In it, Frederick established three tenets of
pharmacy practice that remain pillars of the field to this day: (1) “the sep-
aration of the pharmaceutical profession from the medical profession”
(Walgreens would forever rearrange this historically dicey relationship for
the good of all health care practitioners after World War II); (2) “official
supervision of pharmaceutical practice” (something for which Charles
Walgreen Jr. successfully fought during his tenure at the company™s helm);
and (3) “obligation by oath to prepare drugs reliably, according to skilled
art, and in a uniform, suitable quality.” In other words, Frederick II sought
to replace the sloppy, slapdash work of unregulated locals with the meas-
ured, consistent practice of a professional class of pharmacists.28
The Age of Enlightenment may have transformed mathematics,
physics, and astronomy, among other sciences; but it was slow to improve
medicine and pharmacy. Through Colonial times, anyone could call him-
self or herself a pharmacist and practice pharmacy in any manner he or she
saw fit. In much the same way that blacksmiths often doubled as dentists
in preindustrial days, printers often doubled as pharmacists. As odd as it
might seem today, their extra downtown floor space lent itself to selling
sundries, and printers had the ability to advertise their myriad goods. Ben
Franklin was a pharmacist, selling “commodities varied from needles and
pins to horses and slaves,” plus patent medicines and Seneca snake root,
“with directions how to use it in pleurisy,” as he advertised in his own
Pennsylvania Gazette in 1730.29
While convenient, this jack-of-all-trades approach to pharmacy did
nothing to enhance the standing of druggists nor to improve the quality of
the care they provided. The inherent conflict between pharmacists and
doctors was stirred anew when a famous pharmacist named John Morgan
gave the keynote speech to inaugurate the medical school at the College
of Philadelphia, which Franklin attended. “We must regret,” Morgan

from humble beginnings 17

stated, “that the very different employment of physician, surgeon, and
apothecary should be promiscuously followed by one man: they certainly
require different talents.”30
The nineteenth century proved to be the beginning of a new age for
the health sciences. In 1820, a physician named Lyman Spalding spear-
headed the production of the first American Pharmacopoeia”the invalu-
able reference that listed all known drugs and how to prepare them.31 The
professionalization of pharmacy accelerated after the Civil War, when
pharmaceutical boards, associations, and university programs sprung up
all over the eastern half of the continent. Even in their embryonic states,
these governing bodies proved helpful in establishing professional stan-
dards, forwarding the cause of pharmacy education, and working to keep
some of the seedier elements out of the field”including addictive drugs
like opiates and narcotics, which were not illegal or even regulated until
the twentieth century. A committee of the recently formed American
Pharmaceutical Association (APA) concluded, in 1901, that the data
they had gathered on addictive drugs and their users was “appalling.” The
APA used its influence to help pass the Harrison Narcotic Act of of 1914,
intended to “bring the opium and coca traffic and addiction problems
under control.”32
Despite the profession™s tangible progress, by the end of the nineteenth
century, the “drug business” still presented more questions than answers
about the remedies it offered and still had plenty of room for snake oil
salesmen, too. A photo taken sometime in the 1890s featured in Urdang™s
comprehensive history depicts the popular “Dr. Matthews Medicine
Show” as it appeared during a tour of Wisconsin, a sort of “medical mid-
way” that consisted of white canvas tents on the perimeter of the grounds,
rows of benches in the middle, acrobats and musicians to attract a crowd,
a chest of prepackaged medicines, and a speiler in top hat, presumably the
good “Dr. Matthews” himself, on a stage, preparing to make his pitch. The
photo caption of “Dr. Matthew™s Medicine Show,” read “Drug shops or
stores did not have to be much more than a permanent habitation for such
itinerant quackery until, through a publicly defined level of education and

18 america™s corner s tore

responsibility, a class of ˜pharmacists™ was created that could be expected
to protect the public against it.”33
Even the term “patent medicine” was something of a dodge, as the cre-
ators did not patent the medicine or its ingredients”which would have re-
vealed how cheap and dangerous the contents often were, not to mention
easily copied”but the formula™s name, since the key to success was mar-
keting, not medicine.34
As a result a true “class of pharmacists” was slow to develop. When both
Dr. Holmes and Charles Walgreen Sr. arrived in Chicago, neither the
government nor the profession asked much of anyone claiming to be a
pharmacist. A brief examination of Dr. Holmes™s professional life shows
us much about the state of medicine and pharmacy when Walgreen moved
to Chicago.
Dr. Holmes was born Herman Mudgett and was raised in New England.
(For clarity, he is referred to here only as Dr. Holmes.) He attended the
University of Vermont medical school. When Holmes entered medical
school, the field was abuzz with the recent discovery of germs and how they
functioned. Many had even begun to believe it was a good practice for the
surgeon to wash his hands before amputating a patient™s leg.
As Erik Larson wrote in The Devil in the White City, “In those days a doc-
tor™s office could indeed be a fearsome place. All doctors were, in a sense,
amateurs. The best of them bought cadavers for study. They paid cash, no
questions asked, and preserved particularly interesting bits of diseased vis-
cera in large clear bottles. Skeletons hung in offices for easy anatomical
reference.” This apparently helped the practitioners to remember that the


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