Sears | Sears Modern Home | A Trip Through Sears, Roebuck & Co | Sears Catalog Gallery
The story of Richard Sears is a famous one. It actually started in North Redwood, Minnesota during the year 1886. He was a young man of 22 when he got a job as an agent at the Minneapolis and St Louis Railroad station.
One day, a local merchant refused to pick up a small crate of pocket watches forced on Sears by a wholesaler. He did not return them. Motivated by ways to get additional income to help his family, he received permission to make his own deal with the watch company to sell the timepieces on consignment.
Redwood, Minnesota station, from which Richard Sears sold his first watches.
By merely putting the right words on paper, the watches sold fast. Within a few short months since he started his side business, he made $5,000 in profit!
In 1887 he moved his family to the center of midwest commerce in Chicago. It was here that he placed an ad for a watch repairman. Alvah Roebuck from Hammond, Indiana answered it. In 1889 he sold his Chicago interests and moved back to Minneapolis to run his mail order catalog business.
In 1893, the Sears catalog consisted mostly of watches and was distributed primarily to cuatomers in big cities. Why wasn’t he selling to the rural areas? Chicago had built a huge railroad empire which meant fast delivery to any point in the country.
Sears’ first plant in Chicago.
Adams Street and just east of Halsted Street
Within 3 years, the Sears catalog became the book of everything. Richard Sears was a natural salesman, and the catalog allowed him to speak to his customers in a way that they respected him. He may not have been the first to exploit words and phrases such as “Guarantee”, “Genuine” and ‘Send No Money” but the difference was he backed them up. One story that is part of Sears lore, is when one customer sent his watch back for repair after it fell out of his pocket. Sears sent by return post a new watch with a letter saying, “We guarantee our watches don’t fall out of pockets”.
The Enterprise Building was Sears catalog headquarters from 1895 to 1905. The original address of the complex was 78 to 96 Fulton, 73 to 87 DesPlaines and 13 to 31 Wayman streets. In 1996, this building, which housed a popular disco in the 1980’s named China Club, became the first loft conversion project in this formerly industrial neighborhood. The Webmaster was one of the first residents of China Club Lofts when it opened.
In 1906 Sears built a new campus in North Lawndale at 925 S. Homan Avenue. This huge complex was Sears Headquarters for almost seventy years when Sears built the Sears Tower in 1974. Most of the buildings in the complex have been converted to a rental community called Homan Square.
A pictorial of early Sears buildings.
In 1893 Sears rented a building on Van Buren street, then in 1896 moved to the Enterprise Building on Fulton & Desplaines, which was expanded several times.
Chicagology is proud to present the entire set of the fifty stereoscope cards that were sold to flaunt Sears’ new Homan Avenue campus. It is believed that the photos were taken by Fred Conley and James Drake, vice president and general manager, respectively, of the Conley Camera Company, a supplier to Sears. One of the stereo cards from this series is used in later catalogs as an example of an image made with a Conley Model XVIII stereo camera (right). It is known that Conley and Drake traveled to Sears headquarters in Chicago in October, 1906, shortly before this series was released. The cards are were first advertised in the 1908 Fall Catalog No. 118.
Sears Catalog Gallery
Sears Modern Home
Sears 1926 Spring Catalog