Montgomery Ward—Phase I
Life Span: 1873-1886
Location: Kinzie street, near State (1873-1876)
Wabash avenue (1876-1886)
Architect: Unknown, Various
Prairie Farmer, November 1, 1873
THE TRADE WITH GRANGES AND CLUBS.
Scarcely a day passes that this (Prairie Farmer) office is not the recipient of requests for a list of the Granges and Clubs in the Northwest. These applications are by individuals who desire to send letters, circulars, pamphlets and the like, and we presume that the offices of the different secretaries are full of all manner of printed schemes, whereby members may save money, or make money, without limit. Among the number who seek this avenue to increase trade or establish a business, there are of course, a great many who are worthy of consideration, and who are really inclined to dispense with traveling agents and their consequent expenses. But it is also true that the Grange business has opened up a new field for adventurers and swindlers, and we have every reason to believe that such are intending to prosecute their work with vigor, the present fall and winter. Indeed, our readers, from Maine to Texas, are now forwarding the special circulars and offers of some of these fellows to us for our opinion as to their honesty and reliability. At present there are two Chicago firms that are the subject of a large number of inquiries, vix: The Union Firnishing Company, Geo. B. Hodge & Co., proprietors, and the firm of Montgomery, Ward & Co. We have been to considerable pains to ascertain the facts concerning these two concerns. Our investigations lead us to conclude that the public had best “give a wide berth” to Geo. B. Hodge & Co. The firm name we believe to be bogus; the scheme is suspicious of its face, if not an absolute swindle, and the business is conducted by men below par in the business circles.
Of Montgomery, Ward & Co., we are glad to say that we can speak in better terms. We find them young men of considerable business tact, and bearing a reputation for honesty and promptness. If a person is a judge of the particular goods he may order from these men and knows their actual market value, he need not be cheated even if there was a disposition to cheat on the part of the shippers, for all goods are subject to inspection by the purchaser before paying for them. As regards the prices, and the real quality of goods offered by this concern, as compared with those of commercial houses in good standing, we have have no knowledge. We do not recommend the firm, and are only stating what we learn and believe about them.
In general we caution Granges and Clubs against all these specimens schemes and offers. A purchasing and a selling agent, whose competency and honesty are above question, are the men for these organizations to tie to. Select the former from among your own number, and the latter from among the best and most reliable business houses in the commercial centres, that have the back bone to undertake the innovation, in the regular manner of trade, that is involved, and who will charge a fair and uniform rate for doing business. No individual or firm can do a legitimate business without remuneration, and those who profess to do so are deceivers and should be avoided.1
Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1873
Don’t Patronize “Montgomery, Ward & Co.”—They Are Dead-Beats.
Another attempt at swindling has come to light. This time it is a firm, Montgomery, Ward & Co. by name, and the parties specially aimed at by the project are no less important a body than the Grangers. This swindling firm, in a bill headed “Grangers Supplied by the Cheapest Cash House in America,” sets forth that, at the “earnest solicitation of many Grangers,” they have consented to opens house devoted to furnishing farmers and mechanics throughout the Northwest with all kinds of merchandise at wholesale prices. Then comes the list of Utopian figures, such as gold locket for $1.50; 10 yards poplin, $1.75; gentleman’s toilet set, containing Westenholm razor, tooth-brush, nail-brush, combs, hair-brush, lather-brush, razor-strop, shaving-box, and soap for $1; 1 secretary writing-desk with implements complete for $1; 1 hoop-skirt, 1 bustle, and 1 hair-braid for $1, and the balance of 200 articles or lots, all at the same figures. The firm boast that they “make no display;” in fact, they keep altogether retired from the public gaze, and are only to be reached through correspondence sent to & certain box in the Post-Office. They are prepared to make purchases for customers of all kinds of merchandise they do not keep, and do it “simply as an accommodation to customers,” who are charged only 5 per cent commission on the net cost. The firm employ no agents. There is probably only one man composing it, and he wants to have all the money the gulls send him for himself. He gets all the letters, with the 10 cents inclosed for sample, the occasional sums sent to make purchases on commission, and all the remittances for the trash sent to his dupes, if, in fact, anything at all is sent. On the letters asking for samples merely, the profits amount to something worth while, for it is known that a certain proportion of the multitudes of circulars issued fall into the hands of credulous fools, who place boundless faith in anything which is set up in type and printed. If such fools would only consider how easy a thing it is to start a swindle of this kind, the dead-beats who get them up would be driven to hard work, or still better, perhaps, starvation. After sending out a couple of hundred thousand circulars, at a cost of a couple hundred dollars or less, the victimizer sits in his room, and awaits responses responses, which, strange to say in “tight times” particularly, come in such numbers that in a fortnight he has his number $200 back, together with a very handsome margin of profit. Then he starts another huge benevolent scheme, with a different Post-Office box as his headquarters, addresses a different class of people to those previously tempted, and cleans out its fools of their spare funds; and so on until wealth brings renown, and, finally, he becomes a successful candidate for aldermanic or higher honors on the ticket of a bummer party. The safety of these operators lies in the fact that out of a thousand men who have been duped it is hard to find one who cares to expose the swindle, and necessarily his own stupidity at the same time.
Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1873
Montgomery, Ward & Co.
In these days, when prices are falling, an enterprising man with capital can purchase goods at low rates, if he knows where to buy them and what they are worth. By retailing them and turning over his money quickly, he can do a first-class trade, There are men whose business it is to investigate the markets, keep the run of goods, attend auctions, and buy for large houses at the cheapest rates. Montgomery, Ward & Co. make their purchases this way. They buy at rates so low that they can sell in proportion. They do a large trade in the country, principally through correspondence, and amomng their customers are many of the Farmers’ Granges. Their line of business is very extensive, including smaller wares, which are indispensable in many cases, but which, if purchased at retail stores would be a burden to the purchaser. Bu=y supplying the country with goods at the cheapest rates, this firm is conferring a favor on the public. Their mode of doing business by correspondence might seem at first sight not to be open and fair, but investigation will show that they mean right, and their dealings with purchasers are just end equitable.
Chicago Evening Post, November 11, 1873
Messrs. Montgomery, Ward & Co. have sued The Tribune for twenty thousand dollars’ worth of libel, because it published an article headed “Grangers Beware!” attacking the firm’s method of doing business.
Chicago Evening Mail, November 11, 1873
Aaron M. Ward, who claims to represent the firm of Montgomery, Ward & Co., recentiy “written up” by the Tribune, began suit against that paper for libel, yesterday afternoon, asking $20,000 damages.2
Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1873
Montgomery, Ward & Co.
On the 8th day of November there was published in the local columns of this paper an article purporting, and intended to be, an exposure of tho business of the firm of Montgomery, Ward & Co., of No. 104 Michigan street. The article was based on on what was supposed to be correct information, but a thorough investigation by this office satisfies us that the article was grossly unjust, and not warranted by the real facts. ‘The firm of Montgomery, Ward & Co. is a bona fide firm, composed of respectable persons, and doing a perfectly legitimate business in a perfectly legitimate manner. This business may be briefly described:
They advertise, by circulars and otherwise, catalogues of a great variety of merchandise, including all manner of dry goods, cotton and woolen; plated ware, toilet goods, men’s underclothing; carpets, blankets, hosiery, and women’s wear, quilts and other bed clothing; jewelry, watches, cutlery, boots and shoes, furs, hats and caps, etc., including all the articles sold in a store of general trade. They profess, and we have no doubt truly, to purchase these articles for cash direct from manufacturers, and in large quantities, and, of course, at less cost than dealers who buy on credit. They also save all the cost and profits which are incidental to trade through several intermediary hands. They keep no large stores and warehouses, have no runners nor salesmen, and thus avoid heavy rents and salaries. They do not retail goods. They sell upon written orders only, and for cash. They send these goods by express, and each consignee is, by express contract, authorized to open the package of goods, examine them, and, if not satisfied, can decline taking the things sent him. If the consignee is satisfied with the goods, he pays the bill to the express company, and in no event is he in any way obliged or compelled to take the goods, or pay therefor, except by his own volition. It is difficult to see how any person can be swindled or imposed upon by business thus transacted. We have taken pains to investigate this business, and have no question, that Montgomery, Ward & Co. are doing a legitimate trade.
This plan of doing business was suggested by the growing combinations of farmers and Grangers, to deal directly with first houses; an, to meet this, manufacturers have already made arrangements in many cases to deal through agents with Granges or Clubs, at wholesale prices. Montgomery, Ward & Co. are offering the same arrangements, but extend the advantages to all persons, clubs, or individuals.
Prairie Farmer, September 25, 1875
Grange Supply House of Montgomery Ward & Co.—This house was established in the autumn of 1872 and has since been steadily growing in favor.Messrs. Montgomery Ward & Co., have at all times aimed to deal fairly and honestly by all. They employ no traveling agents but furnish their price lists free so that Granges can make their orders understandingly. They send out goods subject to examination before being paid for, and if not found as represented, may be returned free of expense to the Grange when ordered in due form by the master or secretary under the seal of the Grange. Samples of piece goods will be sent to any address upon application. Their list of references is headed by D. W. Adams, Master of the National Grange, and includes others of the leading Patrons of the country. We call attention to the advertisement of this house (below). We have yet to hear of the first complaint from any Grange or individual that has had business transactions with Messrs. Montgomery Ward & Co.
Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1876
227 and 229 Wabash avenue, four-story and basement building to Montgomery Ward & Co., dry goods, $6,000.
Montgomery Ward 1876 Catalog
227 and 229 Wabash
Montgomery Ward Plant
227 and 229 Wabash Avenue
Robinson Fire Map
1The Grange, also known as the Patrons of Husbandry, was organized in 1867 to assist farmers with purchasing machinery, building grain elevators, lobbying for government regulation of railroad shipping fees and providing a support network for farm families. By the early 1870s there were more than one million members. Montgomery Ward was fortunate in obtaining the support of the Farmers’ National Grange, so he could advertise as “The Original Grange Supply House.” The Grange was also Ward’s first customer.
2The media was not aware that the “M” in Aaron M. Ward’s name stood for “Montgomery.” They assumed that “Montgomery” was another person, thus the name of the company was often misspelled as “Montgomery, Ward & Co.”