Friday, December 08, 2017

there were some big companies that used to be the pillars of the American corporate world, Montgomery Ward was one of the biggest, and it was all started with mail order

From a cramped office on North Clark Street, surrounded by hoop skirts, lace curtains, red flannel, wool socks and more--and with Christmas a mere four months away--Aaron Montgomery Ward launched the nation's first mail-order business.

It began with a one-page price list boasting 163 items, which he sent to farmers' cooperatives throughout the rural Midwest.

It had not been a particularly easy launch. Less than a year earlier, Ward had been nearly ready to start business when his entire stock of merchandise was destroyed in the Chicago Fire.

Unlike existing mail-order businesses that dealt only in their own individual items, Ward offered the rural consumer a variety of merchandise and, by eliminating the middleman, kept prices low. His new business found a ready market as homesteaders pushed west across the frontier. By the spring of 1874, his price list had grown to 32 pages and was bound into a catalog. Color illustrations, woodcuts and drawings by Charles Dana Gibson followed.

In 1946, a book-lovers society included a Montgomery Ward catalog on its list of the 100 American books that had most affected American life, noting "no idea ever mushroomed so far from so small a beginning, or had so profound an influence on the economics of a continent, as the concept, original to America, of direct selling by mail, for cash."


  1. When I was in the 8th grade (1958) I saved my money and bought a full set of power kraft tools from wards. was $92.99. I still have a lot of them in my tool box.

    1. Wow... how in the world did you amass that fortune in the 1950s? That's a lot of lawns mowed and cars washed for an 8th grader! My compliments! any time you will share some photos of the tools and tool box, I'd love to post them!