George H. Bartell, Founder
Little did a 21-year-old pharmacist from Kansas realize that with the purchase of his first Seattle drugstore at 27th & Jackson in 1890, he was founding a trusted Northwest institution. His lifetime of dedication to the industry continues to this day under the stewardship of his family.
Born in 1869, George H. Bartell was never one to let opportunity and adventure pass him by in life. At age 14 he left his family’s farm and moved to Lincoln, Kansas where he spent the next four years apprenticing in pharmacy at a local drugstore. By age 18 he was considered a full-fledged pharmacist.
Call of the West
Lured by the stories of opportunities in the Far West, Bartell left Kansas in 1887 on a Milwaukee Railroad train heading towards the little-known Washington territory. One month later he arrived in Seattle, at the age of 18, with only fifteen dollars in his pocket and a dream. Over the next few years Bartell supported himself with various jobs, including a job as a real estate broker and filling in as a pharmacist on occasion. In 1890, after working at the Lake Washington Pharmacy for only two weeks, he purchased the pharmacy from its disenchanted owner and Bartell Drugs was born.
Gold Rush Fever
Bartell worked hard to make his business a success and by 1897 his business was doing reasonably well. However, the arrival of the steamer “Portland” at the Seattle waterfront with what was described as a “Ton of Gold” from the Yukon Territory soon inspired gold fever in the young pharmacist that was too hard for him to resist. After turning his pharmacy over to his assistant, Bartell was on a steamer headed towards the Yukon Territory. He returned to Seattle a year later with enough gold to pay for most of his trip expenses and a vision of Bartell Drugs’ future.
Bartell’s Grows with Seattle
Upon his return from the Yukon, Bartell embarked upon an ambitious business plan to open several drugstores in the downtown Seattle area to serve Seattle’s growing population with better values and service. In the latter part of 1898 his plan was put into action with the opening of a second drugstore called Bartell’s Owl Drug Store at 506 Second Avenue. Over the next 41 years, until his son took over the company in 1939, George H. Bartell Sr. would open 18 stores.
Neighborhood Focus, Service and Innovation
Bartells’ expansion plan was successful primarily because he was quick to respond to his customers needs. He operated Seattle’s first “discount” drug store, offering customers the opportunity to purchase items at reduced costs. He made shopping easier by opening drugstores in convenient locations throughout Seattle. His stores were also the first in the West to offer in-store soda fountains and film development.
Lifetime of Leadership Recognized
In March of 1956, after a brief illness, George H. Bartell Sr. passed away at age 87, ending a 66-year career of founding and building the Bartell Drug Company. George H. Bartell Sr. was inducted into the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame in 1997; joining the founders of Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer and other well-known Northwest based companies who had received this special honor. Bartell was recognized for his innovation, persistence and vision. He is considered a model for business leaders of today and a business role model for today’s youth.