Pharmacy & Healthcare

History of pharmacy, legacy of care

From the first Walgreens drugstore to more than 9,000 neighborhood staples, learn how we’ve continued to innovate pharmacy and healthcare services for more than 120 years.

By Steven Cohen
From introducing the first self-service drugstores to popularizing the pharmacy drive-thru, Walgreens and innovation go together like October and American Pharmacists Month.
Today, the role and impact of pharmacy teams on the front lines of the pandemic have never been more important. From administering immunizations to providing invaluable care, our pharmacy team members continue to be trusted by their patients for healthcare advice, treatment and support.

Take a trip down memory lane to see how pharmacy at Walgreens has evolved over time, starting with our very first pharmacist … 
Charles R. Walgreen Sr.1901
Charles R. Walgreen Sr.—Walgreens’ first pharmacist—purchases the drugstore where he works in Barrett's Hotel on Chicago's South Side. Although the company’s origins are synonymous with Chicago, Walgreen almost leased a corner in Seattle to base his future operations while on his honeymoon there a year later.

Walgreen Sr. insists that Black and white pharmacists are paid the same, decades ahead of industry norms and cultural standards.

Black and white pharmacists
Pentagon Walgreens pharmacy1943
Although Walgreens received a number of awards from the U.S. Treasury Department for its efforts to market War Bonds, our most significant contribution to the government may have been opening the first drugstore in the Pentagon, which operated into the ’80s.

Walgreens fills its 100 millionth prescription, far more than any drugstore chain at the time. By 1980, Walgreens reaches 500 million prescriptions filled.

Child resistant1968
Walgreens becomes the first major drugstore chain to put its prescriptions into child-resistant containers, long before it was required by law. It did take a while for many to learn the “secret” of pressing your palm down on the cap and twisting counter-clockwise at the same time.

The first Intercom computers—a proprietary electronic pharmacy system—come online in five Walgreens pharmacies in Des Moines, Iowa, the initial step toward making Walgreens the first drugstore chain to connect all its pharmacy departments via satellite three years later. This means a patient could just as easily get a prescription filled while vacationing in Florida as they could back home in Connecticut.

Intercom Plus computer
Henry Cade1987
Henry Cade, then the director of public affairs and professional relations for Walgreens, becomes the first Black pharmacist to serve as president and chairman of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the organization supporting the state boards of pharmacy in creating industry regulations to protect public health.

Although the pharmacy drive-thru was invented in 1951, the trend wasn't popularized until Walgreens opened its first drive-thru location. More than 70% of Walgreens stores had a drive-thru by the early 2000s.

Walgreens drive-thru
1999 launches, giving customers and patients the option to meet their healthcare needs at home.

Walgreens becomes the first drugstore to offer prescription labels in multiple languages chainwide, helping patients better understand how they should take their medicine. Today, prescription services are available at Walgreens in 14 languages.

Walgreens pharmacist2004
Walgreens begins a pilot immunization program in Seattle, administering more than 3,000 flu shots, before expanding to five more markets—Boston, Chicago, Virginia, Colorado and Iowa—a year later.

The H1N1 flu pandemic puts community pharmacy on the map in terms of immunizations and paves the way for pharmacists to administer not only flu shots, but also a wide range of other vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Walgreens mobile app launches to offer customers and patients more convenience in shopping, managing prescriptions, photo and more.

Walgreens mobile app
Walgreens becomes the first community pharmacy to require all pharmacists to be certified by the American Pharmacists Association as immunizers.

Pharmacist, child and dad in Ethiopia2013
Together with the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign, Walgreens launches the Get a Shot. Give a Shot.® campaign to help provide 100 million lifesaving vaccines to children in need around the world by 2024.

Walgreen Co. and Alliance Boots GmbH become Walgreens Boots Alliance, the world’s first global pharmacy-led, health and well-being enterprise. This wasn’t the first international move, however. In 1946, Walgreens acquired Sanborns, a leading Mexican retailer, which it operated into the ’80s.

Walgreens becomes the first drugstore chain to offer safe medication disposal kiosks in stores to allow for individuals to safely dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medications at no cost to them.

Safe Medication Disposal Kiosk
Walgreens Find Care2018
The company launches Walgreens Find Care®, an easy-to-use tool accessible via app and website, which connects people to healthcare providers both in-person and virtually. First launched to help patients with issues like illness, injury and chronic care management, today the platform helps address health and well-being needs such as urgent care, preventive care, COVID-19 tests and more.

Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft join forces to develop new healthcare delivery models, technology and retail innovations to advance and improve the future of healthcare.

Walgreens conducts its first COVID-19 test, and the company supports Operation Warp Speed, together with the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and state and local governments, to help administer COVID-19 vaccines to high-priority groups including long-term care facility residents and staff. Walgreens administers its first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 18.

Kate Latta
Woman holding COVID vaccine sticker2021
Walgreens launches its COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative, hosting more than 1,300 off-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics to date at local churches, civic clubs, historically Black colleges and universities, and other locations. As the pandemic continues, HHS extends the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act to allow pharmacy technicians to not only administer COVID-19 vaccines to eligible patients, but also flu vaccines to everyone ages 3 and above. Today, more than 60,000 immunizers have administered more than 30 million COVID-19 vaccines and 14 million COVID-19 tests to patients across the country.

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