Story of the First Health Food Store

Martindale’s Natural Market enjoys the distinction of being known as the 1st health food store in the country. Newly formed, Oil City, PA was the original location of the market’s founding in 1869. Now located in the Olde Sproul Shopping Village in Springfield, the store’s focus on health, wellness, and food purity is a natural outcome of its origins.  This is our story.


Food Was Natural Then

early phone at the time of the 1st health food storeImagine Pennsylvania before the invention of the light bulb, the telephone, and even of peanut butter. The oil rush north of Pittsburgh brought new industry to western Pennsylvania, and Thomas Martindale opened a small corner grocery. Although all food was considered “natural” back then, the man had vision. The Centennial inspired him to move the grocery to Philly and the rest of the store-y is our history. For more visual perspective check out old photos on our history.

The front window display of live goldfish, along with fresh veggies like watercress, had completed their mission of attracting crowds in the window display. It was time to move! Entrepreneurs through and through, Martindale and partner, Johnson, operated the Philadelphia store out of 10th and Market St. until about 1920. Letterhead read, “Thomas Martindale and William Johnston. Importers, Grocers, Wine and Spirit Merchants”. Their rare whiskey jugs are still sought out by collectors.


Thomas Martindale, Paleo – Thomas C., Vegetarian

Ever the nature lover, it could be argued that Thomas Martindale was Paleo, unlike his son, Thomas C. Martindale, who was more inclined to be vegetarian or vegan. Even after Thomas, the elder, created his start-up, he ranged up and down the Eastern coast into Wildwood, Virginia and beyond into northern British Columbia. Trout fishing, moose hunting, outdoor camping, and the salmon run captured his fancy long before our natural habitat became endangered.Thomas Martindale was paleo and ate these paleo foods

Historical journals have not been lax of his hunting expeditions, interactions with the native inhabitants, and reflections on life. Martindale’s many books document his life and the habitat. Historians have judged these to be of significant historic value. Find volumes with these titles and more:

  • Sport Royal, I Warrant You! Twelfth Night – 1897
  • Sport Indeed – 1901
  • Wildwood Ways and Down East Wilds – 1905
  • With Gun and Guide – 1910
  • Hunting in the Upper Yukon – 1913


Shop Olde Martindale’s

What sold? Shoppers in 1903 could find sixty-five varieties of fresh cheese in the store. Additionally, bacon, sauerkraut, pickles, sausages, and even candy were sold. Of course, scrapple was sold either because it was tasty or because it was Philly or both! Tea, coffee, cake, biscuits, and cream puffs were all available. Bread was $.05 a loaf.

At one time, Martindale owned Turkish Baths, believing in the health benefits of a good steam.

All this occurred while Martindale founded the Trades League and helped early Philadelphia establish sound business practices. This he accomplished along with others, including his associate, the renowned John Wanamaker (creator of the money-back guarantee). Martindale was the first president of the Poor Richard’s Club, founded in 1906. On occasion, he served his associates wild game from the hunt.

Important to realize, far more accomplishments could be mentioned though he was not a creature of “high-society”. With this in mind, his popular appeal found him being considered for city mayor. However, his interest in this was nil. He was practical, through-and-through, while also a living example of a visionary.


Money Without Health vs. Health Without Money

Many an entrepreneur could consider work-life balance summarized in these words:

“And now a parting word to you, you man of business, chained like a felon in his cell, bereft of sunlight, harassed with care, tiring your brain over the one mighty problem of money-making—or else some scheme to stave off financial disaster—’twill pay you to ponder on my words and my experience and call a halt. Make up your mind that money without health is a much greater calamity than health without money. Leave your desk and turn your back on the steaming streets of civilization and your thoughts where Nature tempts with her trout streams, her mirrored lakes and her game-abounding retreats; to her forests, fragrant with balsamic odors and watered by living streams, streams wholesome with the leechings of the Spruce, and Pine, and Cedar—Nature’s own nectar; a draught of it and you’ll need no other stimulant”

Excerpt From: Thomas Martindale. “Sport Royal, I Warrant You! Twelfth Night.” iBooks.


Food Integrity

Food was natural back in 1869 but Martindale saw it morph in his lifetime. Upton Sinclair’s shocking exposé of the meatpacking industry in The Jungle was the first wake-up call. Appalling conditions for workers, and the shameful excuses for what passed as meat rocked the nation. The failure of food integrity began a free fall.

Furthermore, who knew where the discovery of Drake’s oil wells would eventually lead? Early 20th century’s inventions would change the world often for the better. However, some changes were not so appetizing, such as the mass use of petrochemicals in food processing. Harmful insecticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones we’re looking at you. Every kitchen to this day faces the scary prospect of genetic modifications to our food via glyphosate.

Martindale’s love of nature transferred down the line and inspires the natural market still. In the wild, his home remedy for a sick boy he encountered included this:

“made him drink hot milk with some cayenne pepper in it.”

Excerpt From: Thomas Martindale. “Sport Royal, I Warrant You! Twelfth Night.” iBooks.

No surprise at all then, that the next generation pioneered “food consciousness”. With food purity issues in plain view, our humble local grocery eventually identified as a “health food store”.

And people understood.

And wanted more.


Concluding the Story of the 1st Health Food Store

Our longevity is directly connected to the people who, like us, are in pursuit of life-giving, natural foods. The need for clean, ethically produced foods is needed now more than ever. Existing as a store for over 150 years is an big accomplishment! Celebrate clean food with us: pure, natural, local, organic, biodynamic, regenerative, and humanely produced foods. Local farms survive and our hearts sing.

To conclude, this is who we are. Come with us; let’s go together into the future.