Catalog shopping: Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck - Business in United States of America

Catalog shopping

Catalog shopping: Postal Innovations and Growth Spurts

Catalog shopping: Technology and the Internet

E. C. Allen of Augusta, Maine, was the first American entrepreneur to offer a general catalog that featured more than a single product line. He mailed more than 500,000 copies in 1871. Allen’s success paved the way for Montgomery Ward to enter the market. During the late 1860’s, farmers formed the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. Ward induced the National Grange to name his company, Montgomery Ward, the official supply house for the organization. In 1872, he founded what would become the longest continually operating catalog business in the United States by using the network of National Grange halls as a conduit for sales. By 1876, Ward was selling a wide selection of items, including red flannel, jeans, hoop skirts, paper collars, lace curtains, and oilcloth tablecloths. 

Two women in Pie Town, New Mexico, order from the Sears Roebuck catalog. People in rural areas especially benefited from catalog shopping. (Library of Congress)

Ten years later, in 1886, R. W. Sears published a specialty catalog that featured watches. His superb salesmanship and persuasive advertising copy captured the attention of consumers. In 1893, Sears, Roebuck and Company issued a general catalog that included a diverse product line, much like Montgomery Ward’s, but Sears’s items were often cheaper. Although the country was suffering a depression, Sears, Roebuck and Company pulled in $400,000 in sales that year. Eventually, Sears became Montgomery Ward’s chief competition. The “catalog war” between the two giant mail-order retailers lasted several decades.

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