Dr. George Martin, Sr.,  Pioneer Arizona and Tucson Druggist Founder of the Martin Drug Company

by A. Martin Ronstadt

Reprinted with permission from the Tucson Corral of the Westerners 
The Smoke Signal Number 56, 1991


George Martin, Sr.
George Martin, Sr.

Tucson was long known as a frontier town. Its history included a place in the line of the Precidio fortresses, a defense against the marauding Apaches. By the 1880's when George Martin, Sr. brought his drug store to Tucson the Apache menace had been broken. The walls of the Tucson Presidio were still standing but no longer used for defense. The cattle drives that came through downtown Tucson were an annual event. Father and sons were in the forefront of business and politics in the taming of this frontier town. Andrew Martin helped to write the Charter for the city. It is no coincidence that the author's middle name was taken from the family name on his grandmother's side.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin

The author, A. Martin Ronstadt, is the great-grandson of George Martin, Sr., and the son of Armand V. Ronstadt. Armand Ronstadt had two sons, Armand Martin and Richard. Both boys, while young, were introduced into the Martin family drug business and both graduated from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. A. Martin Ronstadt was in the first pharmacy class in 1950 and Richard Ronstadt in the class of 1951. Richard later moved to California and A. Martin continued his association with the stores through a succession of owners until his retirement in 1990.


Photo Album

Dr. George Martin, Sr. 
Pioneer Arizona and Tucson Druggist 
Founder of the Martin Drug Company

Dr. George Martin, Sr. left his native Ireland for the New World in 1851. Exactly what prompted this decision, we do not know; we can only speculate. Perhaps, like many other young men, he saw the terrible effects of the potato famine of the mid 1850's and decided to seek a new life in America. Or, perhaps he disagreed with the expectations that the oldest son would take over the family farm or business and wait for all the other siblings to be educated and on their own before beginning his own life.

George was born in western Ireland on July 4, 1832 at Loughrea, County Galway. His mother was Mary McDonough. His father was Andrew Pierce Martin, a large landowner and the scion of an old and distinguished family.1 Six children were born to the union; four girls and two boys. Both boys, George and Louis, eventually came to America.2

George received his education at Belvedere College in Dublin, a private school run by the Jesuits.3 At the age of ten he was apprenticed to a doctor which in later years provided the incentive for becoming a pharmacist with the title of Dr. Whatever opportunities there were for him in Ireland, ambition for greater opportunities compelled him to leave the shores of the Emerald Isle. He crossed the seas and landed in New York in 1851 at the age of 19.

He immediately enlisted in the United States Army on November 26, 1851, and was assigned to Company "D", 2nd U.S. Infantry.4 He was sent to the territory of California which had been acquired from Mexico in the War of 1848. Stationed at Old Fort Yuma on the Colorado River, he was involved in Indian fights at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers on August 25, 1852. He was transferred to Battery "I", 3rd U.S. Artillery on June 11, 1854 and was honorably discharged at Fort Yuma on November 26, 1856 concluding a five-year enlistment.5 He had served as quartermaster and later as hospital steward in the infirmary, gaining experience which would serve him well later in his life.

George managed the sutler store which supplied goods and food to the Army at Fort Yuma from 1856 to 1859. When placer claims were opened up at Gila City to the north, he opened a general merchandise store to serve the needs of the gold seekers under conditions which were described as among the crudest in the west.6 When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he entered into a partnership with King S. Woolsey on the Agua Calienta Ranch on the Gila River, eighty miles east of Arizona City (Yuma). At the end of three years he disposed of his interests to Woolsey and went to work for Hooper and Company of Yuma, taking charge of their store.7

Drug store in Yuma
Drug store in Yuma

In 1872 he opened a drug store in Yuma in the Hooper, Whitney and Company block. Now forty, he married Delfina Redondo, twenty-three years old and the daughter of Esteven Redondo, a landowner from Sonora, Mexico. Six children were born in Yuma: daughters Mary, Matilda, Agnes, Stephena, and Delfina; and one son, George, Jr. In the 1870 census, George, Sr. is listed as the clerk of Arizona City. He was also a member of the Yuma Vigilance Committee and served terms as Yuma County Supervisor and Treasurer, and as Yuma City Treasurer and Councilman.8

Drug store in Tucson
Drug store in Tucson

In 1883 the Yuma drug store was sold to H.E. Crepin of California, and on January 1, 1884,9 George, Sr. purchased a drug store in Tucson and moved his family of six children. Two more sons were born in Tucson: Andrew in 1886 and Louis in 1889. The Dr. George Martin, Sr. Drug Store was Tucson's second drug store; the first drug store in the Territory had been established by Charles Meyer in 1858. Meyer, a German, had been trained as a physician and druggist. He arrived in Tucson in 1856 with a cattle drive and spent the next two years working for the U.S. Army as a physician.10

George Martin, Sr. Family
George Martin, Sr. Family

Community living in Tucson, in the year 1864, was described by J.R. Browne as follows:

"It is gratifying to find that travel in many lands has not fatally impaired my capacity for receiving new sensations. It was reserved for the City of Tucson to prove that the world is not yet exhausted of its wonder. As the center of trade with the neighborhood state of Sonora, Mexico, and being on the high road from the Rio Grande to Fort Yuma, it became quite a place of resort for traders, speculators, gamblers, horse thieves, murderers, and vagrant politicians. Men who were no longer permitted to live in California found the climate congenial to their health. If the world were searched over, I suppose there could not be found so degrading a set of villians as formed the principal society of Tucson. Every man went armed to the teeth and street fights and bloody affrays were of daily occurrence. It was litterily (sic) a Paradise of Devils."11

Fleishman Drug Store at Congress and Court  first drug store in Tucson, circa 1883 
Fleishman Drug Store at Congress and Court 
first drug store in Tucson, circa 1883 

Meyer served as Justice of the Peace by popular acclaim and when the Arizona Territory was established by Congress in 1863, he was officially elected to that position. His store was called, "La Botica", or drug store, by a largely Spanish-speaking population. In 1882, Fred Fleishman of California, who worked for Meyer, married Meyer's daughter, Carlotta, and the following year the couple were given the store. The Fleishman store was located on Congress and Court.12

In 1870 the Territory had only 9,658 residents. In 1888 the population of Phoenix was 6,000. Tucson had to wait two more years to claim a population of 5,000. The classified section of an Arizona directory published in 1880-1881 listed the communities of Prescott, Tombstone, Tucson, and Yuma as having a druggist. Dr. George Martin's name appeared as the druggist for Yuma.13

George, Sr.'s title of Doctor was acquired because of his training in Ireland and his experience in the military. This was the case with most physicians and druggists, since there were no laws to license the professions until after 1900. Some men operated as both physician and druggist; for example Dr. O.J. Thibodo of Phoenix and Dr. J.B. Chapin of Florence.14

Martin Drug Store, 28 West Congress, 1891  George Martin, Sr., George, Jr. and Andrew on left
Martin Drug Store, 28 West
Congress, 1891  George Martin,
Sr., George, Jr. and Andrew on left

When Dr. Martin moved to Tucson, he located his store at 32 West Camp (now Broadway). In the next two years the store was moved to 28 West Congress, and then to 40 West Congress (Congress and Church).15 In 1888 it became the first drug store in the Territory to have a soda fountain.

Upon arriving in Tucson, Sylvester W. Purcell, a licensed druggist from Colorado, started a friendship with Dr. Martin. Purcell, unable to establish a legal practice after many efforts, went to work in February, 1896 for George, Sr., who was suffering with varicose veins caused by standing on his feet for long hours. He would open the store at eight a.m. and remain there for sixteen hours.16 After hiring Purcell, Dr. Martin could go home at six p.m. and not return until the next morning. The business flourished, but when George, Sr. was confined to home, it became necessary to hire another pharmacist. His name was Mr. Geblen.17

After George, Sr. recovered and returned to work Purcell had this to say about their relationship:

"Dr Martin, during all this period, showing (sic) the most remarkable character I ever saw in a man. He was always polite, going out of his way to help the needy, though he had a large, growing family to support. He never swore, drank intoxicating liquors, and seldom used tobacco. A good reciter of events, and many of the reminiscences that be told me would make good history for this new generation. His fight with Apaches, his defense of the peaceful Papago, he was a great believer in the virtue of the Papago and on one of his trips from Yuma he caught a white man in the act of attacking a Papago girl, he jumped from his surrey and caught the fellow over the back with a large mesquite club and grabbed him, but the fellow got away and ran for the hlls. This is only one of so many exploits of Dr. George Martin, a pioneer, fearless, though always a Christian and a gentleman."18

The family lived for some time at 101 East Pennington, on the south side of the street in the middle of the block between 6th Avenue and Scott Street. The house was acquired about 1900.19 In 1900 George Martin was involved in efforts to preserve the Military Plaza. Sylvester W. Purcell, one of the attorneys on the case, describes this episode in Tucson's history.

By S. W. Purcell 
Tucson, Arizona, May 3, 1940

On , 19 , the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Tucson gave notice of its intention to divide Military Plaza into blocks and lots and offer same for sale to the highest bidder. The Military Plaza consisted of a block of ground set aside by the United States as a Military Post and consisted approximately of six ordinary city blocks, bounded by the then Eleventh Street (now Broadway), thence south along Scott Street to Fourteenth, thence east to Fifth Avenue, thence north to Eleventh, thence west to Scott Street, to the place of beginning.

Dr. George Martin met with a number of business men and after a full discussion, concluded that the move was made by a few moneyed citizens who wished to profit by this sale, and Dr. Martin and associates wanted it as public park, and proposed to stop the sale, asking the Mayor and Council to declare it a public park, pointing out that the people coming to Tucson would have a recreational center equal to any in the west. This petition was turned down by the Mayor and Council.

The citizens' group again got together and decided to test the question of the City's right to cut up the Plaza, and in order to do so selected Dr. Martin as the one in whose name it should be tested, (the law requiring such action to be brought in the name of some citizen). So the action was brought in the name of George Martin and others. In order to bring the action, it was necessary for some overt act to be taken. So it was decided that Dr. Martin occupy a space of ground to form the test. Dr. Martin occupied the corner where the Santa Rita Hotel now stands and built a small house, pending litigation. The Citizens Group employed Col. Wm.E. Herring and Judge S.W. Purcell as their attorneys. The case was tried before Judge George R. Davis, (a very honorable man), who had been appointed Federal Judge for the District of Arizona, and in Territorial days the Federal Judge had jurisdiction over the Territory in much the same manner as the Superior Court now has. Judge Davis was new to this District, country and the west, and impressed with the idea influenced by the glamor and show of the City and moneyed interest backing the cutting up of the Plaza. Anyway, after several days of trial the case was taken under advisement, and in about a week be rendered a decision in favor of the City. Dr. Martin and associates bad no ulterior motive and no object of gain. Their object was to preserve to posterity that which they believed belonged to it, and today, had these good citizens succeeded you would see the most magniftcent park, playgrounds, swimming pool, etc., etc., in the west, and the names of this group of citizens would be emblazpned on a monument of fame.

George Martin, Jr. 
George Martin, Jr.

In 1903 the Arizona Territorial Legislature created statutes for establishing pharmacies and licenses were given out to those who were actively engaged. George Martin, Sr. received his license (number unknown) and George Martin, Jr. received number 98. Andrew was denied a license because of his age, being only 18 years old at that time. Andy received his license, number 237, in November, 1908 after serving an apprenticeship. Louis received his license, number 530, in 1919.20

In 1904 Delfina Martin died in California at the age of 55. There is no record that she ever became a naturalized citizen. All her life she spoke only Spanish. Three years later, on March 31, 1907, Dr. George Martin, Sr. died in California at the age of 75. It is believed that he was a naturalized citizen obtained through his military service but the date is unknown.

Junior Class, California College of Pharmacy  George Martin, Jr., center second row  February 5, 1902
Junior Class, California College of Pharmacy 
George Martin, Jr., center second row 
February 5, 1902

George Martin, Jr., having graduated from the University of California School of Pharmacy, took over the operation of the store in 1906, a year before the death of his father.21 In 1908 the Martin Drug Company was incorporated and George, Jr. became a member of the State Board of Pharmacy, serving until 1915. On December 28, 1908 Martin Drug Company purchased the Crystal Soda Bottling Company.

In 1910 Andrew Martin graduated from the University of Arizona with a major in business even though he had been expelled in 1904 when he participated in the so-called "St. Patrick's Day Strike" at the University along with approximately half of the student body. In 1912, when Arizona became a state, Andy ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He was defeated, but went to Washington as secretary for the newly elected Senator, Carl Hayden. The following year, George Martin, Jr. bought the Crystal Soda Bottling Company from the Martin Drug Company and embarked on a new career which was ultimately more financially rewarding. His soda firm was to become the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Tucson. George, Jr. made known his dislike for the long days and other demands of the drug business, so Andy was forced to return from Washington to assume the presidency of the drug company.

During World War I in 1917, Andrew, a captain in the National Guard, resigned his commission (earned through ROTC at University of Arizona) and left for France with the first contingent from Tucson. As appropriate, Mary, the eldest sister, took over the store and operated it until Andy's return in 1919. He had seen action at St. Mihiel, Tours, and Meuse Argone and attained the rank of Top Sergeant. Andy organized the American Legion in 1919 and was its first Department Commander. In 1920 he was on the National Executive Committee of the Legion. In 1920 the Martin Drug Company established a wholesale drug business for southern Arizona. In 1925 George Martin, Jr. was elected President of the Arizona Pioneer Historical Society.

Map of Tucson showing location of stores  Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society 
Map of Tucson showing location of stores 
Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society

Over the years, Andy guided the growth of the Martin Drug Company as it became a chain of eight stores, with seven in Tucson. The original store, number one, was at Congress and Church. Number two was at Congress and 5th, number three was at Congress and Scott, number five was at 6th and 22nd, number six at 6th and Park, number seven at 3rd and Euclid, and number nine at 6th and Tucson Boulevard. Store number eight was located in Casa Grande. Store number four in Ajo had been abruptly closed when it received a thirty-day notice from the landlord, Phelps-Dodge. Andy, always active in politics, became involved in a dispute with the mining company over a legislative matter and was forced to leave Ajo.

Andrew Martin was one of fourteen "free-holders" who drew up the new Tucson City Charter in 1932. In 1941 he became a charter member of Tucson Rotary, and in 1947 was awarded the University of Arizona Alumni Award for his efforts in founding the College of Pharmacy. In 1940 he began many years of service on the Selective Service Board, retiring in 1968. Andy was active in many civic and political groups.

Andy Martin sold the Drug Stores to Joe Ryan in 1954  and eight stores became part of Ryan-Evans chain, now Revco
Andy Martin sold the Drug Stores
to Joe Ryan in 1954 and 8 stores
became part of Ryan-Evans chain,
now Revco

After World War II the warehouse business was moved from the basement of the Congress and Church Street store to a central warehouse located at Broadway and 1st. In 1954 because of declining health, Andy decided to sell the stores to Joe Ryan, an old friend from Globe, Arizona. The eight stores became part of the forty store Ryan-Evans chain. In turn, the Ryan-Evans chain was sold to Revco Drug in 1969. Today, only one of the original sites is being operated as a drug store; the one at South 6th and 22nd Street location.

George Martin, Jr. sold his interest in the Crystal Coca Cola Bottling Company in 1955 to a Tucson business group. In 1962 Matilda died at age 89; in 1967 George, Jr. died at age 83; and Andy died in 1969 at age 82.

Richard and Matilda Ronstadt  married in St. Augustine Cathedral 1897
Richard and Matilda Ronstadt 
married in St. Augustine
Cathedral 1897

Agnes, Stephena, and Delfina, the youngest of the George Martin, Sr., daughters, all were married. They had moved to California where they raised their families and it was there that they died. Mary, the oldest, and Louis, the youngest of the children, also moved to California. Neither one ever married. In 1944 they were involved in an automobile accident and Mary was killed. Louis then returned to Tucson where he died in 1968. Matilda, who married Richard Ronstadt in Tucson, remained there until her death in 1962.

Thus ended the era of the Martin name as Louis and Andy never married, and George, although twice married, had no children. Andy, a very patriotic and civic-minded individual who had no children, left his estate in trust for scholarships to local high schools and the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona. The college which Andy had worked so hard to establish in 1950 now offers fifty annual scholarships to Arizona high school graduates. Andrew Martin's loyalty to his country is further demonstrated by his stipulations that the scholarship recipients certify as follows:

  1. That they are loyal to the government of the United States of America, and
  2. That they are not members of any organization or group dedicated to the destruction of the form of government of the United States of America.22


Armand Martin Ronstadt is a 4th generation Arizonan whose great grandfathers came to this country from Germany and Ireland respectively. Marty, as he is most often called, attended Immaculate Heart Academy, Safford Elementary and Jr. High Schools, and Tucson Senior High School. During World War II, he served for 2 years in the United States Army as an Army Air Corp Aviation Cadet. After WWII he enrolled at University of Arizona and received a BS in Pharmacy in 1950. He was in the first Pharmacy class to graduate from the U of A. Having received a commission in 1949 via ROTC, he served 2 years during the Korean War - one as a combat medic in Korea. He started work in the family drug stores at age 13 and continued with a series of successive owners as a Pharmacist and Manager until retirement in August of 1990. He also served as an Associate in Pharmacy Practice at the U of A and received Preceptor of the Year Award in 1986. Marty and his wife Barbara of 44 years have 5 children and 5 grandchildren. Active in Church organizations, Homeowner associations, and Pharmacy groups, Marty was also president of Tucson Boys Chorus Board of Directors. His hobbies include flying, bridge, gardening, stained glass, and traveling. He currently is involved with the Arizona Historical Society as a docent and guest speaker, and the Tucson Corral of Westerners as Deputy Sheriff. Marty is also Grand Knight of his Knights of Columbus Council. This is his first attempt at freelance writing.

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