|"Spirit of Progress" atop former Ward's Building.|
For instance. Most Chicagoans know Marshall Field, the department store founder whose namesake flagship State Street store became a beloved icon. Field didn’t originate the idea of a department store, he perfected it, forging cherished personal memories for many Chicagoans who made pilgrimages in December to ogle fabulous Christmas windows.
But the truly revolutionary Chicago figure, whose legacy outstrips Field’s though his name is more remote from public memory, is a clerk who worked for Field: Aaron Montgomery Ward. It was Ward who, in mid-August, 1872, printed out a single sheet of 163 items for sale and mailed it to farmers. Ward created the first mail-order catalogue.
We forget how revolutionary Ward’s business really was. People at the time had trouble wrapping their heads around it. The Chicago Tribune denounced Ward, editorially, as an obvious crook. “Beware! Don’t patronize Montgomery Ward & Co. They are deadbeats!” the paper warned Nov. 8, 1873. Beside the impossibly low prices and suspiciously wide range of goods, the company “retired from the public gaze,” with no roving agents or actual place of business. What was that?
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