Sunday, July 9, 2017

Three Friends in this World

Sears Roebuck Catalog, 1942

Richard Warren Sears went to work at 16 after his father died. (Apparently a theme for business magnates of the age.) Eventually, he became a station master for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad.

On November 18, 1883, Standard Railway Time went into effect in North America. 

Sears paid $50 for a shipment of watches refused by the recipient. Enlisting other station agents, he was able to sell the watches for $5,000. At that time, the United States had an astounding 300 different time zones. Keeping track of railroad scheduling required a timepiece.

Alvah C. Roebuck

After 24 time zones were adopted globally, Sears opened the R. W. Sears Watch Company. A few years later he hired Alvah Curtis Roebuck to repair watches.

If you don't find it in the index, 
look very carefully through the entire catalogue. 
Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue

Sears capitalized on the railroad system to build an empire through increased rural delivery options, because every red-blooded American wants to buy stuff. A colleague said of Sears, "He could probably sell a breath of air."

Sears 1960
Now . . . as for nearly four generations . . . 
Satisfaction Guaranteed 

Richard Sears continued to improve and expand services. He was the first to offer an unconditional money-back guarantee. 

The 1905 catalog featured full color and texture wallpaper samples and swatches of fabrics used in men’s suits. By 1915 the catalog was four pounds, 1200 pages and offered 100,000 items.

Don't be afraid you will make a mistake (on your order). We receive hundreds of orders every day from young and old who never before sent away for goods. Tell us what you want in your own way, written in any language. We have translators to read all languages. - 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog

Norman Rockwell painted two Sears Roebuck catalog covers. 
He sold prints of the painting in the catalog. 

Sears made his catalog a little smaller than his competitor, Montgomery Ward. When housewives straightened up, they would place the smaller catalog on top larger items, leaving Sears ready for perusing.

Men aren't men until they can get to Sears by themselves. 
- Tim Allen

Alvah Roebuck asked Sears to buy him out of the company in 1895. Later, he returned to work for the company as an employee and became a popular attraction at Sears store openings in the 30s. 

Honesty is the best policy. I know, I've tried it both ways. 
- Richard Warren Sears

In 1896, annual sales went from $1.2 million to $101 million in 1914. 

At 44, Richard Sears resigned as president and sold his stock for $10 million dollars. He died six years later in 1914 with a $25 million estate. 

All the other pleasures of life seem to wear out, 
but the pleasure of helping others in distress never does. 
- Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald, one of the partners taken on when Roebuck left the company, became the sole director of the company. Unable to finish high school himself, Rosenwald was influenced by Booker T. Washington. He partnered with African American communities in the south and built over 5,300 schools.

In 1904, Sears, Roebuck and Co. purchased 41.6 acres in Chicago. Intending to build a complex for processing, warehousing, shipping, and housing 9,500 employees, the company anticipated a cost of $5 million.

Shipping area in the Sears merchandise building  

The 14,000,000 cubic feet merchandise building, was built in 8 months. 

It took 23,000,000 bricks, 12,000,000 feet of yellow pine, 2,800,000 feet of maple flooring, and 7,000 artisans and laborers. 

Making full use of the rail system, the merchandise building accommodated a 60-foot wide rail depot to handle 200 cars a day for incoming and outgoing freight. 

The buildings in the complex were connected by 4,312 feet tunnels, 
large enough to accommodate a two-horse wagon. 

The cost of construction was almost $75,000 under budget. 

Do not be fooled into believing that because a man is rich, 
he is necessarily smart.
There is ample proof to the contrary. 
- Julius Rosenwald

The Sears Roebuck Catalog was first sent in 1888 and the final publication was mailed in 1993.

The day I worry about cleaning my house 
is the day Sears comes out with a riding vacuum cleaner. 
- Roseanne Barr

From tombstones to houses, the Sears Roebuck catalog was responsible for an enormous trade in merchandise . . . 

[The Sears] catalog serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living. - Sears News Graphic, 1943

and for the lack of trade in one consumer product.

For years, Americans used the absorbent, uncoated catalog paper as toilet paper. It wasn't until the catalog changed to glossy paper that the American toilet paper market became viable. However, the change was not readily accepted and Sears received a number of complaints.

You all got only three friends in this world: 
The Lord God Almighty, 
the Sears Roebuck catalog, 
and Eugene Talmadge. 
And you can only vote for one of them. 
- Eugene Talmadge, 67th Governor of Georgia from 1933 to 1937

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Thank you for assembling this story about Sears. It was fun to remember and learn.