Catalog shopping: Postal Innovations and Growth Spurts - Business in United States of America

Catalog shopping

Catalog shopping: Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck

Catalog shopping: Technology and the Internet

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, two postal improvements further spurred the growth of the catalog industry: rural free delivery (RFD) and parcel post. In 1891, Postmaster General John Wanamaker first proposed a rural free delivery system, which was designed to eliminate the need for residents to pick up their mail at the local post office. Instead, carriers delivered letters to roadside boxes. Parcel post, instituted on January 1, 1913, also offered residents the convenience of having packages delivered directly to their doors. 

New catalog businesses proliferated throughout the twentieth century. In 1912, Leon L. Bean founded a mail-order business in Freeport, Maine, and L. L. Bean grew to become one of the most recognized brands in the catalog industry. Eddie Bauer found similar success on the West Coast with the establishment of his retail store in Seattle, Washington, in 1920, and his catalog business in 1945. Chicago-based clothing retailer Spiegel mailed out its first catalog in 1905. 

Although catalog sales slowed during the Great Depression, the mail-order industry experienced renewed growth during the post-World War II boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s. No longer had a staple of farm life, catalogs become popular with the urban and suburban population, as the American economy grew more industrialized and affluent. In this fertile environment, niche catalogs such as Lillian Vernon, a household and fashion accessory retailer established in 1951, thrived. 

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