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Early Sears Catalogs Were Smaller Than Montgomery Ward So They Would Be Placed Atop Others

What was once one of the most popular ways of shopping is remembered each year on August 18th as it is National Mail Order Catalog Day.

  • On this day in 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward of Chicago produced a catalog designed for direct order via mail. He aimed to remove the middleman from the business of buying and selling. As a result, he drastically lowered prices.
  • The very first catalog consisted of an eight by 12-inch single sheet of paper. On it, Ward included the merchandise for sale, price list, and ordering instructions.  Before long, the Montgomery Wards single-page list of products grew into a 540 page illustrated book selling over 20,000 items. 
  • One notable merchant, Richard Warren Sears, mailed his catalog in 1896. As others entered the field, catalog sales grew. By 1971, catalog sales of major United States firms exceeded more than $250 million in postal revenue.
  • Early Sears catalogs were made smaller than Montgomery Ward catalogs so that neatnik housewives would stack them on top.
  • According to the National Mail Order Association, Aaron Montgomery Ward wasn’t the first to conceive of mail order catalog. In the United States. Benjamin Franklin may have formulated the first basic mail order concept. He produced a catalog to sell scientific and academic books. Franklin also receives credit for offering the first mail-order guarantee: “Those persons who live remote, by sending their orders and money to B. Franklin may depend on the same justice as if present.”
  • In 1845 Tiffany published its first mail order catalog, the Blue Book.
  • Today, mail order catalogs have been replaced with internet websites. Additionally, the term “mail-order” has been replaced with the term “online shopping.”
  • Philadelphia pharmacist Asa Candler invented the coupon in 1895 by offering free  Cokes in a local newspaper.
  • Between 1908 and 1940, Sears Roebuck and Company sold over 70,000 homes by mail-order. They were shipped via railroad boxcars and included all materials needed to build a sturdy and well-designed house.
  • In 1959, the U.S. Post Office and the Navy experimented with using guided missiles to deliver letters quickly and efficiently.
  • Every Christmas, Neiman Marcus unveils a fantasy gift list in their annual Christmas catalog. In 2007, items for sale exclusively by catalog included a $1.44 million              submarine and a $1 million 305-carat uncut diamond necklace.
  • According to research, 69 percent of Americans shop from catalogs, on the Internet, over the phone, or by mail, while 81 percent of U.S. households usually read some or all of the advertising mail they receive.
  • Clothing sizes were standardized for first time during the Civil War in order to provide soldiers’ uniforms; this standardization led the way for it to be possible to sell clothing through the mail.
  • During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered over 50,000 Eddie Bauer jackets for airmen.
  • The Lillian Vernon catalog was started with $2,000 by Lillian Hochberg in 1951. As her success grew, she changed her name to Vernon in honor of the town where she lived: Mt. Vernon, New York.
  • In the ’60s, the C.I.A. paid Vietnamese spies with merchandise from mail-order Sears catalogs, since they had little use for paper money
  • The reason that NORAD annually tracks Santa Claus’ journey from the North Pole is because Sears printed an ad to talk to Santa on his private line, with a wrong phone number that was actually CONAD’s (NORAD predecessor) top secret hotline that would only ring if there was a national crisis.
  • When the Sears and Roebuck catalog was first printed on glossy paper, people wrote in to complain because they could no longer use the catalog as toilet paper.
  • The oldest mail order company that is still in business is Hammacher Schlemmer. It’s first catalog was published in 1881.
  • The L.L. Bean catalog joined the mix in 1912 promoting its Bean Boot via mail order catalog — all from the basement of Leon Leonwood Bean’s brother.


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