Ward had conceived of the idea of a dry goods mail-order business in Chicago, Illinois, after several years of working as a traveling salesman among rural customers. He observed that rural customers often wanted "city" goods but were often victimized by monopolists who offered no guarantee of quality. Ward also believed that by eliminating intermediaries, he could cut costs and make a wide variety of goods available to rural customers, who could purchase goods by mail and pick them up at the nearest train station.He worked to launch earlier but obstacles including the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 consumed the building he had stocked his merchandise. The company pursued and with ups and downs is again in operation - you can still order from Ward's .
My Grand-Mother-In-Law, Maren Andersen Nielsen kept the 1932 Montgomery Ward catalog cover in her awesome scrapbook: It was their 60th Anniversary.
The back side tells their story:
In 1872 A. Montomery Ward and George R. Thorne pioneered a new idea - the idea of selling by mail - and originated the Guarantee, "Satisfaction or Your Money Back." American warmed to this new way of buying and by 1874 Ward's had twice moved to larger quarters. The single-sheet "price list" had grown onto an 8-page catalogue, and the first mail order illustrations had pictured the "Grange" hat and a few pieces of luggage. In 1876 we moved again to larger quarters at 227-229 Wabash Avenue, and the catalogue was increased to 156 pages. The first mail order pictures of men's and women's fashions were used by Ward's in 1878 - the very height of style in those days! Our big 7 - story building at 111-114 Michigan Avenue was completed in 1887, with space for the 21,797 articles we then listed in our catalogue. 1893, World's Fair Year, brought thousands of visitors to Ward's and during the next four years we enlarged our building three times! Nearly 2,000,000 customers bought from us in 1897, and in that year the catalogue included our first page of color printing. The famous Tower Building was completed in 1899, 25 stories high, and topped by the Spirit of Progress statue - which has since become America's emblem of supreme VALUE! 1905-6 saw the beginning of our Kansas City branch, and the first free distribution of our catalogue (Up to that time our customers had willingly paid for it.) We moved into our present home in 1909 - it was then the largest concrete building in the world, and by 1912 we were selling everything from pins to automobiles! The years from 1914-1929 witnessed the construction of our nine great mail order houses, bringing Ward's within overnight shipping distance of 85 per cent of all the homes in America! Today, on our 60th Anniversay more than twelve million families look to Ward's for Guaranteed Satisfaction, for Same-Day Service, and for the lowest prices to be found anywhere on goods of equal high quality.
Buildings listed: Oakland, Albany, Denver, Portland, St. Paul, Chicago, Chicago, Ft. Worth, Baltimore, Kansas City.
A few more catalog covers can be found on Ward's "About Us" page here.
Another blog post about Montgomery Wards catalog at "Seduced by History".
Blog posts over at Pleasant Family Shopping tagged "Montgomery Ward"
Fickr Wishbook photostream has a collection of Christmas/Toy Catalogs that include several oldies from Montgomery Ward.
Remembering Montgomery Ward 80 years after the above catalog was published on the 140th anniversary of their first catalog!