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SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO. WAS the Amazon of home delivery—and a lot more. The famed Sears catalog, the Internet of its day, offered everything from Havana cigars and Ranger Hammerless Takedown Double Barrel Shotguns for men to Dr. Wine’s Slenderizing Health Belts and the Green Witch Marcel-Effect Water Wavers for women. “Buy from the World’s Largest Store,” the 1927 edition of The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue proclaimed.
Here are tidbits gleaned from this catalogue and from my usual Internet sleuthing.
Sears, Roebuck, and Rosenwald. Wikipedia writes, “Sears, Roebuck and Co., commonly known as Sears, is an American chain of department stores founded in 1892 by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck and reincorporated in 1906 by Richard Sears and Julius Rosenwald, with what began as a mail ordering catalog company migrating to opening retail locations in 1925, the first in Chicago.”
WLS. Editor Mirken noted, “Sears, which billed itself as the World’s Largest Store, established its own radio station in 1923 [other sources say 1924] using as its call letters WLS.” This was only several years after Pittsburgh’s KDKA transmitted the first scheduled broadcast on November 2, 1920, in announcing live returns of the Harding-Cox Presidential election.
Mirken described WLS broadcasting: “In 1927 the station was being operated as a service to customers with farm reports interspersed among entertainment programs. The aim apparently was to create more radio sales by providing an incentive for purchase.”
Radio Sales. “Radio was beginning to gain popularity,” Mirken said, “but Sears still found it necessary to explain in detail that anyone could install one of its radios by following the carefully worded instructions.”
The least expensive five-tube Model XIV Silvertone table model, “manufactured and sold exclusively by Sears, Roebuck,” went for $24.95, sans accessories. “Your Radio,” the catalogue added, “Deserves Its Own Table,” offerings ranging from a rudimentary folding table ($3.59) to a Console Table with Built-In Speakers ($19.95).
“It is difficult to picture the beauty and massive qualities of a console such as this striking piece of furniture,” Sears proclaimed of its top-line Model XXI. It went for $87.50 cash or $95.95 at $14 down/$14 monthly.
To put these in perspective, the CPI Inflation Calculator values a 1927 purchase of $24.95 as $431.38 in today’s dollar; the high-buck Model XXI’s cash price of $87.50 being $1512.84.
Geez. And remember The Green Hornet didn’t show up for another nine years, January 31, 1936.
What Of Sears These Days? A Sears store used to be one of the anchors of world-renowned South Coast Plaza here in Orange County, California; It’s gone now. Indeed, sears.com lists only 11 locations in the entire state, one of them a nearby Sears Appliance Outset.
Mysteriously, another Sears in the state, a Service Centers Repair Drop Off Location, is listed in Jonesboro, CA. It’s a town I never heard of, and, in fact, I don’t believe it exists. This Sears Drop Off is actually in Pasadena, with its online map showing what’s evidently the home offices in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 70 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee.
Ain’t Google Maps fun?
No problem, though. I still have the 1927 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue for all my browsing. Now what about those Dr. Wine’s Slenderizing Health Belts? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
Great memories! The Sears Roebuck Catalog was an essential part of my education in the late 1950s. I spent many an evening examining the contents.
The wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears provides a lot of details on the firm’s downfall but draws no conclusion: Did PE-driven debt play a significant role in the collapse and failure?
My Great-grandfather Wischover was head buyer for Sears, Roebuck in Germany 1910-1917. He was a merchant in Columbus, Nebraska, and an associate of Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck. Gram remembers him arranging for machinery, fine china and Christmas ornaments for the catalog.
Recall that Sears sold Allstate branded tires (ala Mickey Thompson Indy), firearms, tractors, Italian motor scooters, automobiles, airplanes and even complete house kits.
All this started with station agent Sears marketing an abandoned rail shipment of watches to fellow employees using the railroad telegraph.
And then there was the other Chi-town based mail order JC Whitney/Warshawsky Company …