Mail Order and Retail Business by Rachael

Mail Order and Retail
By Rachael Kuiper
Who wants to go to the store when you can
order your goods from the mail? During
1800 and 1900s the idea of mail order was
becoming more popular to the average
person. It was quick, easy, and
Aaron Montgomery Ward was
the first man to use mail order
for his business. When he
was nine years old he took on
the job as an apprentice to
help support his family. He
stayed on for a few years and
then decided to find fortune
elsewhere. After several
years at several jobs he
found himself in Chicago,
where he found work
traveling for whole sale drygoods house.
As he traveled he listened to the
complaints from the back-country
proprietors about how they had to
travel to the city to buy their goods.
Soon he came up with the idea of
direct mail sales to the families
living in the country. In August 1872
he rented a shipping room and
published the world’s first general
merchandise mail order catalog
with 163 products listed. When his
brother in-law joined him in
business the company flourished!
Many rural retailers hated the
catalog because it was bad for their
business but people in the country
loved it and began to refer to it as
the “Wish Book”.
In 1886 they acquired their first serious competition in the
mail order business, when Richard Warren Sears
(mentioned in the following paragraph) introduced his
first general catalog, and the two companies struggled
for dominance much of the 20th century. In 1908 Aaron
Montgomery Ward and his brother in-law opened a new
building that was north of downtown Chicago. The
building, known as the Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog
House, served as the company headquarters until 1974.
In 1886 Richard W Sears founded
the R.W. Sears Watch Company
in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When Mr. Sears moved the
headquarters of his business to
Chicago, he hired Alvan C.
Roebuck to establish a mail
order business within the
company. The first catalog went
out that same year. Mr. Sears
and Roebuck sold the company
in 1889 and a few years later,
they founded another mail order
business that became known as
Sears, Roebuck and Company.
In 1895 Mr. Roebuck left the
company to join with Julius
Rosenwald, a wealthy
clothing company.
Meanwhile Mr. Sears wrote
the company’s soon-to-befamous catalog witch
featured sporting goods,
automobiles, dolls,
refrigerators, stoves,
groceries, and many more
items. The Company grew
by selling to farmers at low
and affordable prices.
Penney, a late comer to the world of business, came at the
turn of the century. On April 14 1902, the founder of the
business, Penney, and his two partners opened the
Golden Rule of the Dry-goods in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
In 1907 Penney bought out his partners and took on a
new one. His new partner, Earl Corder Sams (president
of the company from 1914 to 1946) was an excellent
business man. Soon they had 34 stores in the west and
in 1913 they rename the stores JC Penney.
In 1958 they started allowing
customers to use credit cards
and stocking more
fashionable merchandise.
This allowed JC Penney to
compete more directly with
other national department
stores (Sears, Roebuck and
company, Montgomery Ward).
The success of the other
stores with mail order
encouraged Penney to enter
the catalog field by acquiring
the General Merchandise
Company in 1962. The first
catalog was published the
next year.
With the growing industry
came the need to
advertise products.
Many businesses used
fancy window displays
to attract shoppers as
they walked along the
street. Others used the
radio to give a brief
description of their
product. One of the
most popular forms of
advertising was in the
news paper.
Many companies targeted
women, trying to convince
them that their lives would be
better with the product. For
example, an advertising
company boasted that their
electric dishwasher was the
“Greatest gift of electricity to
the modern house wife.”
Another form of advertising
was trademarks; using a
symbol to represent their
companies product. For
example Coca-Cola was a
new brand that was on the
market in the late 1800s.
The mail order business was a key
component in the growth of American
industry. Over the years it has changed
dramatically and in doing so it changed the
course of American history.
Montgomery Ward,
A Brief History of Mail Order,
Montgomery Ward, the world’s first mail order business,
Sears Roebuck and Company,
JC Penney Corporation Inc.,
Mail Order Business,
World Book, Volume 13, Mail Order Business, p.66
Growing Industries,
United States History, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2007, Section 1
Boom Times, Page 756