The Montgomery Wards Catalog 1875-1876 By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
February 1, 2013
The foremost competitor for any general store during that time was the Montgomery Ward and Co. Catalog. Montgomery Ward, a Chicago based mail order house touted itself as being the “most complete store on earth”. It bragged that it could provide at a 5 percent mark-up almost any article required by the civilized world. The catalogues were prized throughout the west. They were crammed with tempting bargains, such as 864 shirt buttons (72 dozen) for 35 cents, a spring bed for $2.75, or a farm wagon for $50. Most of the orders were filled by railroad express, and the company thoughtfully advised its customers to pool their orders to qualify for a lower freight rate on shipments of 100 pounds or more. On request Montgomery Ward and Co. shipped small orders by mail but that was not always the smartest way, for the post office clerks were so scrupulous in observing the four pound parcel post limit that they once mailed a coat in two packages and included a needle and thread for reassembly. Montgomery Ward was the brain child of Aaron Montgomery Ward, a shrewd dry goods salesman who had traveled extensively throughout the west and listened to complaints of the high prices charged by the general stores. In 1872 he decided to form a “house” to sell directly to the consumer and save them from the profit of the middle man. He invested $1,600 in goods and set up shop in a 12 x 14 foot room. His first catalog was a single sheet of paper listing 167 items. By 1875 his little company had moved to occupy an entire floor over a livery stable, and he began publishing a 72 page catalog containing over 2,000 items. Two decades later it was 624 pages of illustrated items, (75,000 items in all). Storekeepers began referring to the successful company as “Monkey Ward”. These merchants periodically offered free goods to people who brought in large numbers of catalogs. This was no more effective than the name calling, but at least the merchants could use the booklets as fuel for bonfires!
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