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the s tar t of something special 47

each new store he opened. The work of art lent the entire room a sense of
style uncommon for corner drugstores.
“For as long as he lived,” Herman and Rick Kogan wrote, Walgreen
“held to the firm belief that a clean, attractive, well-operated soda foun-
tain was one of the best business-building assets a drugstore could have”
a magnet that operated every hour a store was open, drawing customers
who would come back again and again.”5
Walgreen™s decision to expand and enhance the soda fountain proved a
very wise one indeed, generating profits and a good buzz around town. He
eagerly expanded the fountain™s repertoire to include ice cream cones, sun-
daes (so spelled to avoid offending religious customers), banana splits, car-
bonated drinks with flavored syrup, and a new drink that was sweeping the
Like other enterprising pharmacists, who were a notoriously creative lot
at the turn of the century, Walgreen started stocking his shelves with the
company™s own brand, including Walgreens™ coffee, cod liver oil, and
something called Bug Pizen, which, the package assured buyers, was “ex-
tremely efficacious in exterminating bedbugs,” a product Walgreen un-
doubtedly wished he had had years earlier to combat the insects who ruled
his flophouse apartment. But it was the introduction of Walgreens™ own
ice cream that transformed the nascent chain in ways no one could have

i scream, you scream

Our love of frozen sweets started with the Romans, who created treats we™d
probably categorize today as flavored ices or sorbet.6 It took England™s King
Charles I to make the dairy treat we call ice cream a mainstay of the royal
diet; but he loved it so much, he kept his recipe a secret from his subjects.
When he was beheaded in 1649, his ability to retain the recipe for himself
diminished substantially, and the formula got out. George Washington
paid some $200 for a version of it, and James and Dolly Madison offered
guests a dish of the sweet stuff at their second inaugural ball in 1809.

48 america™s corner s tore

But ice cream didn™t catch on with everyday citizens until three ad-
vances made it easier to make, store, and eat. (1) Nancy Johnson invented
the first hand-crank ice cream maker in 1847. (2) The spread of safe and
cheap electricity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries allowed ice
cream makers to refrigerate their goods (Fridgidaire introduced the first
self-contained refrigerator unit in 1923).7 And (3) the ice cream cone”
invented during St. Louis™s combined Olympics and World™s Fair in 1904
when an ice cream vendor ran out of paper dishes and asked the waffle
maker working next to him to roll a few up so he could keep selling his cold
confection”made ice cream easier to sell. Small wonder that the chil-
dren™s song, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream,”8 was
recorded in 1928.
Add it all up, and you have the Golden Era of Ice Cream. When
Walgreen bought his first store in 1901, Americans consumed some 5 mil-
lion gallons of ice cream annually; but by 1919, demand had increased 30-
fold to 150 million gallons a year. Walgreen correctly sensed that the time
was ripe to indulge America™s sweet tooth.
When Walgreen was still focused on his second store, everyone might
already have been screaming for ice cream; but Walgreen”and perhaps
only Walgreen”thought it could be better. Long before people worried
about fat grams, calories, or cholesterol”or even knew what they were”
Walgreen wanted to make an ice cream with more butter fat than his sup-
pliers offered. “So he installed an electric freezer in the basement of his
store and made his own.”9
Walgreen guessed right. The company™s own ice cream drew customers
who otherwise had no desire to enter a drugstore”but they had to, be-
cause only Walgreens sold such superrich ice cream.

the hot lunch program

The cold creations were immensely popular all summer long, but they
couldn™t attract customers once the weather turned chilly, which rendered

the s tar t of something special 49

Walgreens™ fancy room superfluous for the frigid half of the Chicago year.
In Walgreen™s first year in the second store, 1909, he closed the soda foun-
tain from October to May, using the luxurious counter to display dry goods
like soap, talcum powder, and cold cream.10
After another great summer watching the soda fountain draw thou-
sands of customers, Walgreen approached his second winter in the new
store with dread, confessing to Myrtle, “I never thought what a barn that
[second] room would be in winter time.”11
Walgreen decided he had to do something to make that extra space pay
year round, so he once again decided to break with conventional wisdom.
“I think if we served a few good sandwiches and something hot”maybe
some soup”and a little dessert, we could keep that room open all winter,”
he said to Myrtle. “Would you help me?”12
Naturally, the answer was yes. Myrtle woke up each morning at dawn to
buy the supplies she™d need and returned to their apartment™s tiny kitchen
to make one kind of sandwich, soup, cake, and pie for each day of the
week”from egg salad to tongue sandwiches, chicken soup to cream of
tomato, chocolate to coconut cake, and lemon cream pie to apple. She
would deliver the food to the store by eleven to feed the hungry lunch
crowd. “We didn™t have automobiles in those days,” recalled Charles Jr.,
who started delivering the food for his mother when he was old enough to
do so, “so we always lived within walking distance of the [second] store.”13
When Charles Sr. put a sign in the store window announcing “Home
Cooking,” it wasn™t false advertising. The myriad delights emanating
from Myrtle™s kitchen drew workers from the stockyards and the switch-
yards, as well as housewives looking to pick up a fresh dessert for that
night™s family dinner”a service that, in characteristic Walgreens™ style,
benefited the customers as much as the company. It didn™t hurt that, be-
fore World War I, Walgreens was the only drugstore to offer hot food on
Chicago™s South Side.
Myrtle kept up this manic effort for two years; but after the birth of
Ruth in 1911, it was decided that they should hire a woman to do
the cooking. But Myrtle™s loyal”and fickle”clientele could taste the

50 america™s corner s tore

difference and complained. So Charles had to let the woman go and asked
his wife if she could keep cooking just a little while longer.
A “little while” turned out to be three more years, until finally the de-
mand for Myrtle™s “Home Cooking” was so great”especially after
Walgreen opened his fourth store in 1913”that Charles decided it was
time to open a company commissary to whip up Myrtle™s popular fare for
all his stores. Walgreens™ food division, which started in Myrtle™s cozy
kitchen, would produce fully a third of all company profits for a half cen-
tury”and probably generated more affection and loyalty for the corpora-
tion than any other division.
Myrtle had made her mark. “Work was as natural to me as breathing,”
she wrote in her autobiography, at age 84. “I cooked as happily as I ate, and
I swept and dusted with the same verve I had for dancing. . . . A lot of hap-
piness was stirred, beaten, and rolled into that food.”14
You could argue that the pharmacy has always been the soul of
Walgreens, the bedrock of intellectual integrity and community service”
especially during the first half of the century, when Charles and Chuck
Walgreen emphasized the importance of maintaining a professional phar-
macy department, even though it didn™t make any money to speak of.
Then the soda fountain was Walgreens™ heart”the friendly, fun side that
made people smile and created an emotional bond with generations of
Americans, one strong enough to endure and grow even after Walgreens
closed the food division.

cultivating leaders

Not only did Walgreens™ gradual early growth give Charles the space to in-
stall the soda fountain and lunch counter that became Walgreens™ calling
card, but the new stores provided enough opportunity to allow Walgreen
and Thorsen to hire and develop the core people who would direct the
company™s stunning growth through the mid-twentieth century.
Roland G. Schmitt™s path to and through Walgreens would become a

the s tar t of something special 51

well-worn one, and it is still traveled today. The very day he enrolled in
the Illinois School of Pharmacy in 1910, he noticed a “help wanted” an-
nouncement on a bulletin board at the school for a part-time apprentice
at Walgreen™s first store at the corner of Cottage Grove and Bowen av-
enues. In the same youthful spirit that Walgreen demonstrated when he
hopped on a train from Dixon to Chicago 17 years earlier, Schmitt stepped
on a streetcar that afternoon, introduced himself to Arthur Thorsen”
who was impressed by the young man™s wit and warmth”and accepted
Thorsen™s offer of $8 a week (just $3 more than Walgreen earned after he
got off the train almost two decades before).
Schmitt worked at the store every morning for an hour and a half, took
the same streetcar back to school for a day of classes, then returned to the
store to work from 6 P.M. to midnight”then got up and did it again after a
few hours of sleep. After graduation, Schmitt became a full-time em-
ployee, a store manager, and finally the vice president of store opera-
tions”an unusually well-liked man with an easy smile. He retired in 1960,
after putting in a very productive half century with Walgreens.15
Like most of Walgreens™ freshman class of executives, James E. Ward
began his tenure at the bottom and learned about the company from the
ground up on his way to the executive level. Ward struck Walgreen as an
energetic, bright-eyed young man; so he hired Ward as a general utility boy
at the second store on 39th Street in 1910, charging him with organizing
the stockroom, making deliveries, and operating a medieval-looking ma-
chine that sharpened customers™ used razor blades, if you can imagine.
A few years later, Ward was felled by a thorax ailment so puzzling that
doctors of the day couldn™t diagnose it, even as Ward lay wasting away in
his bed. Determined to help his young understudy beat the odds, Walgreen
asked a friend, Northwestern University™s Dr. N. C. Gilbert, for another
opinion. The resourceful doctor stopped Ward™s demise by devising a way
to drain the young man™s lungs, starting Ward on his way to recovery. Near
the end of the decade, Ward was well enough to serve in World War I.
Walgreen™s only recorded disappointment in Ward was his refusal to study
pharmacy, though Walgreen apparently forgave him because he named

52 america™s corner s tore

Ward his director of purchasing, a job Ward fulfilled to great acclaim for
over three decades.
Walgreen™s third store, at Michigan Avenue and 55th Street, not only
served as a hedge against the possible failure of the second store when
Walgreen heard rumors of another drugstore coming in across the street, it
also attracted two young workers who would become Walgreens legends:
Alphonse Starshak and Harry Goldstine.
Alphonse “Al” Starshak came in as an assistant manager and pharma-
cist in 1912, and Harry Goldstine came aboard the next year as a clerk.
Their recruitment and rise speaks volumes about the Walgreens™ approach
to personnel generally. “Each man possessed qualities Walgreen admired in
potential managers,” the Kogans wrote, “a penchant for organization, a
willingness to work long hours without complaint, a desire to increase sales
and profits for the company as well as compensation for themselves, an
ability to confront problems without undue stress, and, above all, a zeal for
unstinting service to customers of every sort and maintenance of good re-
lationships with employees on every level.”16
Starshak became Walgreens™ top trainer for new store managers, while
Goldstine made a name for himself by developing training programs for
everyone else. Both men thereby dramatically influenced the character of
the company at every level long after they retired as vice presidents
decades later.

growing like topsy

By 1912 the three Walgreens stores each had a professional pharmacy, a
festive soda fountain, a popular lunch service (later expanded to serve
three meals a day), and skilled, ambitious people to make them all hum. It
was time to copy the recipe and spread it around.
Walgreens opened its fourth store in 1913 at Calumet Avenue and 43rd
Street , putting the young Goldstine in charge; and its fifth store opened

the s tar t of something special 53

two years later on Cottage Grove and 35th Street, just four blocks down
from its first two stores, with Starshak running the new site. Both new
stores quickly proved to be as successful as their predecessors, convincing
Walgreen to give the green light to more expansion plans.
The incredible growth to come and the remarkable risks Walgreen and
his team would take to create it would be breathtaking to anyone but a
Chicagoan living at the dawn of the twentieth century. The company™s
leaders had been born in Chicago or drawn to the specter of its unequaled
rise as a world-class city. Since they could remember, they had seen mira-
cles occurring all around them on an almost daily basis: the reversal of the
Chicago River to better serve the young city; the town rising rapidly from
the ashes of the Great Fire to become far bigger and better than before; the
Columbian Exposition™s fabulous White City emerging from a fetid swamp
in just 18 months to wow the world; skyscrapers popping up every month,
then every week, drawing neck-craning tourists from around the globe;
and the growth of the city itself, from a backwater river town to one of the
world™s great cities in mere decades, arguably the most dramatic develop-
ment of any city, anywhere, at any time.
Walgreen and his colleagues not only saw all this happen”or read
about it”they felt it in their bones, breathed its spirit, and believed in its
lessons. In Chicago in the early twentieth century, more than in any other
place or era, anything was possible if you were willing to work for it.


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