33 Where the Big Catalogue is Printed
This view through the center aisle of our press room in the Printing Building1 is but a glimpse of the largest private press room in the world. Each of these great presses receives the paper from a roll and prints, folds and delivers five thousand thirty-two page sections of our Big Catalogue every hour. These great automatic machines, the most modern of their type, are run by electricity, and our visitors find this department one of the most interesting in our entire establishment. In the course of a year we send through these presses a strip of paper forty-six inches wide and long enough to wrap nine and four-fifths times around the world. If these rolls were piled end upon end, one on top of another, we would have a column of white paper thirty miles high and thirty one inches in diameter. As this paper is made from wood pulp, the mills which produce it for us consume, every working day in the year, the spruce trees which grow on six acres of timber land. Understand that these figures represent only the paper used in our Big Catalogue, and in addition to this we consume thousands and thousands of tons of special paper for our special catalogues, office blanks and stationery. We have installed the very latest machinery of every sort from the press room to the bindery, and our organization is so thorough and the capacity of the Printing Department is so enormous that we are able to produce in a single day thirty thousand copies of our twelve hundred page catalogue. We send out more than six million of these big books per year, and operating this big plant ourselves is another of the reasons we are able to name such low prices.
Sears Printing Building
Sears 1905 Fall Catalog
Almost everyone who visits our new plant is astonished to discover that we operate one of the largest, if not the largest, private printing plants in America, but as one passes through our enormous establishment and notes the vast quantities of printed matter consumed from day to day, he is prepared for the statistics which indicate the magnitude of our printing plant.
We have erected a building two hundred and fifty feet long, ninety feet wide and four stories high, which is devoted exclusively to the printing of our big twelve-hundred-page catalogue, our seventy-five or more special catalogues, our fifteen sample books and the millions of blank, circulars, and price lists required in the daily course of business. In this large structure we have installed fifteen of the most modern perfecting printing presses, exactly such machines as are used by the large magazines of the country, and these presses are run night and day to produce a sufficient number of our large catalogues to supply the demand for them.
Sears Advertising Building
Sears 1907 Fall Catalog
The Daily Mail
The Advertising Building which houses the advertising manager and his assistants, a force of skilled workmen who set the type for our large catalogue and other advertising matter, together with the clerical force engaged in addressing and mailing the millions of catalogues, pamphlets and price lists sent out from this institution in the course of a year,m is ninety feet wide, one hundred and sixty feet long and four stories high, and naturally the work carried on here is closely allied to that done in the Printing Building. As we sell direct to the consumer and as all our business is solicited by the use of advertising matter, this is really the heart of our business enterprise, and some of the things accomplished here are well nigh marvelous. Our business with the postoffice department is so heavy that the government maintains supervisions over it and its representatives are always present in our mailing department. By maintaining such a system and routing all our mail in our own establishment, the mail sacks go direct to the postal cars at the railway depots instead of through the general postoffice, and this brings our mail matter to our customers at a considerable saving of time.
SEARS IN 1916
A glimpse of our large Pressroom where our big General Catalogs are printed. Many tons of paper and ink are used in printing the large quantities of catalogs required to reach our millions of customers. The close view will give you an idea of the size of these huge presses.
R. R. DONNELLEY
RR Donnelley’s business volume doubled between 1915 and 1919 in part due to a 1917 contract to print the Montgomery Ward catalog. Work for Sears, Roebuck & Co. started at the same time. On a routine sales call in 1922, Donnelley secured the first significantly large contract with Sears for the Dallas edition of the general catalog (or “Big Book”). Then in 1928, as its contract with Cuneo Press neared expiration, Sears decided to turn the printing of the Big Book over to RR Donnelley and W. F. Hall.
In 1948, RR Donnelley built a two-story, 45,000 square foot facility in Chicago exclusively for printing each of two yearly Sears catalogs with a combined print run of seven million copies. Donnelley remained the printer for Sears’s “Big Book” until 1993, when the retailer discontinued its catalog service.
1The Printing Building became the Merchandise and Laboratory (M&L) Building in 1959 till its closing in 1990. It also housed the Sears Testing Labs, Store Displays and the Sears Photography Studio (SPS).