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Tag Archives: Mail-Order

Odd Jobs of Bygone Days: Catalogue Assembly

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It’s hard to imagine an assembly line of human page pushers in this automated age, when books are printed on demand and most cumbersome mail-order catalogues have gone the way of the dinosaur in lieu of online shopping; but in 1942, here’s proof that Sears, Roebuck & Co. was doing their fair share of employing.  The first catalogue was published in 1888.  To read more about the history of Sears, click here.

Sears Roebuck Catalogue Assembly Line, 1942

The Bygone Rural Wish Lists: Montgomery Ward Catalogue

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1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 12

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.

1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 2 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 5 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 8 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 9 1934 Christmas catalogue from Montgomery Ward 11

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