Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Visions of Sugarplums (and the Sears catalog)


| January 2006


Farm families once depended on mail order catalogs

How many of you remember the anticipation, and the agonizingly long wait, after your mother sent in an order to Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward & Co.? The Christmas season makes me think of the wonderful Sears & Roebuck "wish books" full of toys that my sister and I pored over as children.

Consumer goods had been available by mail since colonial times, but in the late 1800s country buyers were leery of sending their money by an uncertain mail for goods they hadn't even seen a picture of, and that often didn't measure up to written descriptions.

Aaron Montgomery Ward established the first of the modern mailorder houses in 1872 in Chicago. By 1874, his catalog offered a wide range of products to farmers at prices near wholesale. The National Grange supported Ward's efforts, and by the early 1890s, Montgomery Ward was distributing a 280-page catalog containing nearly 10,000 items to tens of thousands of Midwestern farmers.

In 1886, a 23-year-old railroad telegrapher in Minnesota, Richard Warren Sears, began selling watches as a sideline. The venture was so profitable that Sears quit the railroad and sold jewelry and watches by mail, hiring a watch repairman named Alvah C. Roebuck. In 1894 they moved to Chicago and set up a general mail-order house called Sears, Roebuck & Co.



Sears was a master salesman and an advertising genius. Through his catalogs, he convinced skeptical farmers to send off their money to a man in Chicago they'd never seen, for things they'd also never seen or, in some cases, even heard of.

Incredibly low prices, money-back guarantees and showy catalogs combined to supply rural customers' every wish and to sell them items they never even believed they could afford. Sears emphasized the variety, style and low prices of a seemingly endless array of food, medicines, hardware, household goods, farm equipment, sporting goods, jewelry and clothing in his huge catalogs. Although no colors were shown, each product was represented in the early years by a reasonably accurate and detailed drawing.














SUBSCRIBE TO FARM COLLECTOR TODAY!

Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

Save Even More Money with our SQUARE-DEAL Plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our SQUARE-DEAL automatic renewal savings plan. You'll get 12 issues of Farm Collector for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Farm Collector for just $29.95.




Facebook Pinterest YouTube

Classifieds


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265