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Who was Tesco founder Jack Cohen? The pioneer of ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’

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Who was Tesco founder Jack Cohen? The pioneer of ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’

Tesco traces its roots back to 1919, when 20-year-old Jack Cohen began selling groceries from a stall in London’s East End.

Born in 1898, Cohen grew up in Whitechapel, east London, the child of Jewish parents.

He began his working life as an apprentice tailor to his father but the pair eventually became estranged after Cohen informed him of his wish to begin a career as a grocer.

In 1917, he volunteered to join the Royal Flying Corps where his tailoring skills were employed by senior officers to make balloons and other aircraft.

After a military career that saw him serve in Egypt, Palestine and France, he was eventually demobilised in 1919 after contracting malaria and returned to England.

Upon returning after the First World War, he was reluctant to continue his work as a tailor, and set up a marker stall in Hackney purchasing surplus NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) stock with his £30 demob money.

He soon owned a number of stalls and set up a wholesale business.

He came up with the Tesco name in 1924 after buying a shipment of tea to start selling his first own-label products. 

Cohen used the initials from the tea supplier TE Stockwell and combined them with ‘Co’ from his surname, creating the soon-to-be famous brand name of ‘TESCo’.

After marrying Sarah ‘Cissie’ Fox in the same year, he opened the first Tesco in Edgware in 1929 and by 1939 owned 100 stores.

Father-of-two Cohen, knighted in 1969, became known for his motto ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’. He died aged 80 in 1979.

After marrying Sarah 'Cissie' Fox (pictured), Cohen opened the first Tesco in Edgware in 1929 and by 1939 he would own 100 stores

After marrying Sarah ‘Cissie’ Fox (pictured), Cohen opened the first Tesco in Edgware in 1929 and by 1939 he would own 100 stores

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