Our History

Spanning the Centuries for Better Health

McKesson took roots in the earliest days of the United States — when organized health care in America was just taking shape. Over the past 180+ years we have played a fundamental role in helping to shape the design and direction of health care: helping to set standards for the health care supply chain and playing a large role in our industry’s technology revolution. 

1833–1855: A World of Distribution

John McKesson and Charles Olcott founded the company in 1833 in New York City to import and sell therapeutic drugs and chemicals wholesale. The company did a brisk business stocking the medicine chests aboard trade ships with pharmaceutical drugs imported from Europe as well as medicinal herbs, roots and spices from Pennsylvania Shaker colonies.

In 1853, the company was renamed McKesson & Robbins, after an employee who became a partner in the firm, Daniel Robbins. By then, the company was distributing pharmaceutical products by covered wagon to 17 states and territories across America, from Vermont to California.

1855–1900: Pioneering Drug Manufacturing

In 1855, McKesson & Robbins became one of the first wholesale firms to manufacture drugs. The company’s fluid extracts, tinctures, pills and tablets soon became known all over the world, and McKesson & Robbins won medals for its pioneering work.

1900s–1960s: Expanding Horizons

In the early 1900s, McKesson & Robbins persuaded several well-established wholesalers to become its subsidiaries, forming a national drug wholesaling company and becoming the leading distributor of pharmaceutical drug products in the United States. This move also shifted the company’s focus to distribution for other kinds of products beyond health care.

1960s–1980s: Distribution Leadership

During the 1960s, McKesson & Robbins continued its focus on distribution by merging with Foremost Dairies of San Francisco to form Foremost-McKesson Inc. The new company became the largest U.S. distributor of pharmaceutical drugs, alcoholic beverages and chemicals; the largest supplier of whey by-products; the largest producer of processed water; a leader in the fresh dairy products field; and a multiregional distributor of hospital and laboratory supplies and equipment.

1980s–1990s: A Renewed Focus on Health Care

In the 1980s and 1990s, McKesson decided to focus more on health care and divested its unrelated businesses. The company acquired Automated Health care, now part of McKesson Automation, and General Medical, the largest distributor of medical-surgical supplies. The company also acquired HBO & Company and operated for a time as McKesson HBOC — the world’s largest health care services company.

2000s–Today

Today, McKesson is ranked 14th on the FORTUNE 500 with more than $123 billion in annual revenue. The company delivers vital medicines, medical supplies and health care information technology solutions that touch the lives of patients in every health care setting. McKesson is committed to creating a health care system that leads to lower costs, fewer mistakes, higher quality and better health for all.

Over the past decade, we have launched initiatives and solutions aimed at reshaping health care. Among some of these important initiatives:

  • Our Health Mart® pharmacy franchise has changed the face of independent pharmacy, enabling independents to thrive in business while providing exemplary care and service to their communities.

  • The US Oncology Network, part of McKesson Specialty Health, is advancing cancer care by expanding patient access to high-quality, integrated care among community-based oncology physicians. The network leverages technology, shared best practices, evidence-based guidelines and quality measurements.

  • We recently entered into the CommonWell Health Alliance, a collaborative effort among health IT suppliers to reach common standards, seamless interoperability and data liquidity between electronic medical record (EMR) systems — an essential part of connecting health care providers for better clinical outcomes.