Back in the days before internet was even a twinkle in the eyes of a Star Trek script writer and television wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye but an inventor’s, and regional economies were largely either agriculturally- or industrially-based, people out in the rural parts of America contented themselves with a rare trip to “the big city” (which might have been a one-horse town, but was big compared to isolated farm life) for basic and limited supplies. But in 1872 that began to change, when Aaron Montgomery Ward conceived of a mail-order business for dry-goods. Gradually, as his business grew and survived the Chicago Fire of 1871 (which consumed his first inventory), and survived the attacks of small-town stores who’d had a monopoly on customers, the concept became popular. Extremely popular, to the tune of 3 million catalogues of ~4 lbs. each by 1904 (not bad, considering the first “catalogue” was a one-sheet price list). You could order everything imaginable, including a complete DIY house kit and live animals.
My father’s parents, born 1899 & 1901, were Kansas farmers (my father was born 1941); I remember the “Monkey Ward” catalogues stacked up with their rival company, Sears, Roebuck & Co, on a small wooden table in the living room of their farm house. What didn’t get ordered got used as kindling for the cast-iron potbelly stove. The illustration above is a page from a 1934 catalogue; I know from stories that my grandmother ordered chicks like this on more than one occasion. Honestly I couldn’t tell you more than Longhorns as far as chicken breeds go; and there were no less than eight breeds offered through the catalogue. Back then you paid $1.90 for 25 live chicks to be delivered; now (here in Switzerland, anyway) we pay $6.50 for 12 eggs. Times have changed!
Here are a few more photos from the 1934 catalogue for your edutainment.