Our History

The History of C.O. Bigelow

Our Apothecary, Our Legacy

Nestled in the tiny neighborhood of Greenwich Village in New York City, C.O. Bigelow is the oldest apothecary in America.

For nearly two centuries we have served some of the country’s most predominant personalities and have remained true to our traditions, transporting customers back to a time and place of personalized attention, customized formulas and healing therapeutic natural preparations.

1838

Our Founding Father

Vermont Physician Dr. Galen Hunter founded C.O. Bigelow, originally called The Village Apothecary Shoppe, located a few steps away from our current location at 102 Sixth Avenue.

Our First Formula

That same year, Rose Wonder Cold Cream was formulated by Dr. Hunter as a cleanser, makeup remover, and moisturizer.

Apothecary Rose Inspiration

Rose Wonder Cream inspired the rest of our classic skin beautifying rose formulations; Rosewater Skin Tonic and our world renowned Rose Salve.

1863

A Notorious Civil War General

Major General Daniel Sickles (also known as “Devil Dan”) an American politician, soldier, and diplomat frequently shopped at the store.

Peg Leg Dan

Daniel Sickles military career ended at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1862, where he was wounded by cannon fire and had his leg amputated.

1870

Formula 005

An employee named George Hooper, who purchased the store from Dr. Hunter 15 years prior, formulated our Lemon Body Cream – it’s still a customer favorite today.

1880

Passing Of Ownership

Part of our unique legacy has been the passing of ownership from employer to employee. Clarence Otis Bigelow, who worked alongside Dr. Hunter for years, purchased the store and renamed it C.O. Bigelow.

Salve To Soothe A Sore

Legend has it that Thomas Edison soothed his burnt fingers with Bigelow’s balm whilst testing an early prototype of his light bulb.

A Favorite Since The Early Days

Our No. 012 Rose Salve is emulsified with extra-soothing rose extract, which helps ease irritation, care for lips and condition the skin.

1902

The Store Moves to Current Building
Mark Twain Always Paid His Bills

“Two or three afternoons a week a little man with a large head a heavy shock of silver white hair, smoking a meerschaum pipe, would quietly walk into the store, register a package and then stroll over to one of the other counters, buy a package of merchandise and stroll out. He was Samuel Clements (Mark Twain).”

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record

A Whopping 39 Cents

Samuel Clemens name can be seen in a ledger that was discovered in the Bigelow archives. Twain’s monthly bill from July 30th, 1906 was a whopping 39 cents. It is recorded that he always paid his bills on time.

1920

The Soda Fountain Opens

The lunch counter and soda fountain were installed and notable for roasting a fresh turkey every day, and squeezing an estimated fifty thousand oranges every year. The chicken salad was a hit there and funny enough made with the turkey roasted daily, however called chicken salad.

In the Fifties and Sixties, the soda fountain would become a prominent social hub for the many New York creatives including actors, writers, poets and musicians.

1939

New Ownership

William B. Ginsberg, first generation proprietor purchases the store from the pharmacist Bluestone. William came to NYC as an immigrant from Eastern Europe and studied by candlelight to become a pharmacist.

1940

War Department Allows Bigelow Windows to Stay Lit During WWII Blackout Regulations

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Thank You Note

Eleanor Roosevelt was a regular customer when she stayed at a friend’s apartment at 20 East 11th Street, her “hiding house” away from the White House between 1933 and 1942. She wrote a letter on White House stationery, thanking Clarence O. Bigelow for sending her “a set of toilet articles.”

Source: Gotham Magazine

1941

Bigelow Windows Display Penicillin

C.O. Bigelow has a long history of creating eye-catching window displays. During World War II we designed windows extolling the virtues of penicillin.

1955

Second Generation Proprietor

Jerry Ginsberg takes over from his father William. A devoted jazz sax and clarinet player, Jerry would have preferred a career in music. But he relented and kept Bigelow going through the decades when chain drugstores were swallowing up independents left and right.

Source: New York Times

1984

Soda Fountain Serves Its Last Meal

It wasn’t uncommon to see the New York Dolls, the Belushis and the rest of the SNL cast, Ed Koch, John Waters, William Kunstler, Ramsey Clark and other artists, writers, and entertainers sitting side by side at the fountain talking politics throughout the years. Some even had their own stool. The last meal was served in 1984.

1990s

Mr. Bigelow, the cat who ‘wouldn’t eat a mouse unless it was prepared at Balducci’s’, died after developing a tumor. He was the store's resident cat for more than 15 years. While he never achieved the celebrity success of Garfield, he garnered a respectiable position in the world of books inspring a short story “Asking Mr Bigelow” by Susan Schwartz and his picture graced the book “Cats at work” (Abbeville Press, 1991). Mr. Bigelow was so renowned he received a New York Times obituary.

1995

The Apothecary Guru

After graduating from The Pharmacy College of Long Island University in 1985, Ian Ginsberg joins the business full time becoming the third generation to work at the family apothecary. Through his instinctive vision, Ian was able to bring C.O. Bigelow to a whole new level while maintaining the store’s old world charm. Year after year, Ian scours the globe to orchestrate a supreme collection of beauty, fragrance and personal care imports from around the world.

2004

Bringing The Archives To Life

Buried in the archives of hundreds of prescription books Ian discovered three very old formulary books. These hand-written treasures link us back in time to old world New York and the hundreds of formulas that were developed in the C.O. Bigelow apothecary for customers. All Bigelow products are inspired and many re-created from these books of tried and true recipes.

2008

Bigelow On Tour

In 2008 Bigelow launched The Experience C.O. Bigelow Tour, a cross-country journey in an Airstream trailer. The tour stopped in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta giving fans the opportunity to learn more about Bigelow and sample products.

2013

Better late than never, Bigelow joins Instagram

It took us three years after Instagram launched, we were too busy making formulas from our archives.

2016

Four Generations of Ginsbergs

In 1924 William Ginsberg received his Doctorate in Pharmacy. Alec Wade Ginsberg, the fourth generation of Ginsberg pharmacists received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in 2016 keeping the tradition alive. This was a proud day at our shop.

2017

Lavender Salve No. 013

We created a tin especially for the legendary Paris shop colette in celebration of their 20th Anniversary.