Category: mail order merchandise

Go-Carts and Baby Carriages

Recently, I was diving deep into research for a story set in 1913. 

Among the resource books piled on my desk was my trusty reproduction copy of a 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co Catalog. I love all the little everyday details I can unearth in its many pages! 

I was searching for baby gear that day. Partly because it tied into the story I was writing (the heroine is a nanny to three little ones), and party because I’ve had baby on the brain for the last few months as we awaited the arrival of my niece’s first baby. 

In particular, I was interested in a description of baby carriages.

 

I wanted to see images of what they would have looked like during that time period.

Did they have any unique features or selling points? What would make a young mother decide to purchase this option or that one?

I had grand visions of ornate carriages with flowery details. 

What I didn’t anticipate was to be so surprised by the product description. 

Notice anything strange in the description?

They called them Go-Carts! 

I had no idea they’d ever been labeled as go-carts. 

On the following page they had advertisements for baby carriages. 

I studied both pages for a while, reading the descriptions, trying to figure out what the difference could be.

At first I thought that perhaps a carriage meant the baby could rest flat and a go-cart meant they were sitting upright. But the go-carts advertise being able to recline.

Then it a light bulb went off. I think the difference is that go-carts can be moved into different positions and many of them could be folded flat (how handy!) like a stroller. 
I tried to dig up some research to either confirm my idea or dash it, but I have yet to find anything that talks about go-carts from Victorian or Edwardian days. 

I did find an interesting history of baby carriages, though. 
William Kent, a landscape architect, designed the first carriage in 1733. It was created for the children of the Duke of Devonshire. Kent constructed a shell-shaped  basket on wheels the children could sit in and be pulled by a goat or pony. 

Wealthy families were Kent’s primary customers. 

The 19th century was a time when parks and recreational spaces were enjoyed as family strolls became popular. An economical way to take babies along needed to be developed. 

Benjamin Potter Crandall manufactured a new design in the early 1800s. He claimed his baby carriages were the first manufactured in the US, although it’s been argued

 the F.A. Whitney Carriage Company may hold the title. At any rate, Crandall developed a style that could could be pushed rather than pulled. His design was largely rejected. His son son, Jesse, eventually took over the business and made some additions, including a brake and added a model that folded as well as parasols and accessories. Reportedly, Queen Victoria purchased three of them which made his designs a must-have for mothers everywhere. 

Carriages were built of wood or wicker and held together with expensive brass joints. Often, they turned into ornamented works of arts. 

Models were named after royalty, like Princess and Duchess.

Charles Burton created the first “pram” or perambulator. It had a three-wheel push design and looked a little like an arm chair on big spoke wheels. Customers found it unwieldy and complained about the design, but Burton was determined to succeed. He took his design to England where he found popularity once the royals began using it. In the UK, the word pram is used to describe a carriage, because of the popularity of the perambulator.

In 1889, William H. Richardson patented the idea of the first reversible carriage. The bassinet was designed to face out or in toward the parent. Until that point, the axis didn’t allow each wheel to move separately, but Richard’s design increased maneuverability. 

Before long, go-carts were being advertised that could fold flat, recline and more. 

As the new century advanced, so did improvements with baby carriages and strollers until we reached today’s models, filled with accessories and safety features. 

If you’d like to find out more about the story that necessitated this research, look for Evie, coming May 23! It’s available now for pre-order on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/y4gnadrk 

Will love bloom between a spunky nanny and a distracted landscaper?

Unconventional nanny Evie Caswell views it as her duty to bring fun and laughter to the residence of her strict, aloof employers. Full of life and spirit, she is determined to teach the couple’s children how to be young and carefree. With hardly a minute to herself, she long ago surrendered her dreams of having her own home and a family. Then her employer hires Flynn Elliott, a landscape architect, to turn the yard into a spectacular garden. Enchanted with the intriguing man, Evie realizes after meeting Flynn nothing in her life will ever be the same.

Renowned for his landscape designs and ability to make anything grow, Flynn Elliott is a bit of an enigma. He spouts romantic poetry to the plants in his greenhouse and stealthily avoids social interactions, yet can charm birds right out of the trees when the need arises. While his sister handles the finer details of their business, he often loses himself in his work, forgetting the outside world exists. A chance encounter with a beautiful woman in a moonlit garden leaves him seeking opportunities to discover more about the effervescent Evie and the joy she radiates to those around her.

Will the two of them be able to set aside their doubts and fears to embrace a happily ever after?

Brimming with lighthearted moments, snippets of history, and the hope of true love, Evie is a sweet historical romance sure to warm your heart. 

~*~

Oh, and if you’re wondering, my niece and her sweet husband welcomed a bouncing baby boy April 2! I was there for his arrival, but can’t wait to return for a visit and hold Baby T again! 

~*~

If any of you know any history about the difference in go-carts and baby carriages, I’d love to learn more.

In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite “baby” item. What makes your heart pitter-patter and think of babies when you see it? A blanket? An adorable pair of booties? Sweet little onesies?

 

Sears: The Amazon of the Gilded Age

I was saddened this week to hear the Sears has filed Chapter 11. The company has appeared in so many of my books, it feels like I’m losing one of my characters. 

Among my favorite resources is a Sears Catalogue dated 1894. I use it to research fashion, furnishings, vehicles and just about everything else a household would have needed back in those early days.  Prices are clearly marked, along with full descriptions—a writer’s dream.

The company was originally started in 1886 by Richard W. Sears in Minnesota to sell watches.  The idea came to him while working as a railroad agent.  A jeweler received a large shipment of watches, which were unwanted.  Sears purchased them and sold them to the railroad agents, making a handsome profit. 

A year later, he moved to Chicago and hired Alvah C. Roebuck to repair watches. Together they established a mail order watch catalogue, which proved to be a great success. 

However, Sears was a restless type and always looking to improve. He didn’t have to look far.  At the time, farmers living in rural areas had to purchase products from the local general store on credit and at high prices. Shopkeepers would decide how much to charge by estimating a customer’s credit-worthiness. Choice of products was also extremely limited.

Sears decided to take advantage of this by offering a catalogue under the name Sears, Roebuck & Company.  His timing was perfect: The government’s Rural Free Delivery Act opened delivery routes in rural areas, allowing for better distribution of the catalogue.

The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. Consumers were delighted to find prices consistent and not have to haggle.  They were also drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success.

Houses were delivered by rail.

By 1895, the catalogue had grown to 532 pages and featured such items as sewing machines, sporting equipment, household furnishings, tombstones and barber chairs.  It was even possible to purchase an entire house from Sears, delivered by train.   In 1905, automobiles were added to the catalogue. It even sold a “Stradivarius model violin” for $6.10

Sears began opening retail stores in 1925 and, for years, was the largest retailer in the United States.   

Many reasons have been cited for the company’s demise.  Critics claim Sears made many mistakes and couldn’t keep up with the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

This might be true, but Sears taught America how to shop and for that reason, its legacy will no doubt remain intact.   

“This book charms.”-Publishers Weekly

iTunes

B&N

Amazon

 

 

Updated: October 17, 2018 — 8:18 am

A Kinship with the Old West

J.Lence

Read all the way through this post for information on a giveaway

Hello, Julie Lence here.  I remember many childhood Sunday afternoons watching John Wayne battle outlaws and Indians on the television screen. Most often, his character lived on a sprawling ranch. Sometimes he doled out his own form of justice from the saddle or a jail cell. Confidant and with a swagger in his step, it’s because of him I have a deep love for anything western. But growing up in upstate New York didn’t provide a lot of opportunity to learn about the cowboy way of life. A friend of the family owned horses. His daughters rode in local parades and competed in rodeo-type events at local fairs, but that’s the closest I came to anything western. Then, several years later, the hubby was assigned to Cheyenne Mountain Air Station in Colorado and I found myself in 7th Heaven!

From Pikes Peak to mining for gold in Cripple Creek to ranches outfitted with cowboys, Colorado is not only rich in history, the state has some of the most breathtaking views. More importantly, Colorado has given me something else; plenty of stores and antique shops to browse. Until the hubby and I came west, I always had this restless feeling potbelliedstoveforP&Pblogwhen it came to decorating my home. Something was missing. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I had a nice painting of a cabin situated beneath the mountains. I had color schemes and knick-knacks, but something wasn’t quite right. The things I had didn’t define me, until I stepped foot in Old Colorado City and discovered exactly what I had been missing—everything to do with horses and the west.

It took several years of scouring and shopping, but today I have western prints, replicas of stagecoaches and covered wagons, pottery, blankets and porcelain horses. Sage grows wild in my back yard. Wagon wheels adorn the four corners and the greeting sign near my door is of a cowboy leading a packhorse through the desert. The only thing I lack and really want, and don’t know what the heck I would do with, is a real wagon to put in the yard. Every time I see one, I joke with the hubby to hitch it to the back of the truck and bring it home. Most likely, if he did, the squirrels would build a home for themselves in the bed. But hey, a girl can dream.

As I mentioned, Colorado houses many stores and quaint shops for me to find my next treasure. We also have several western themed museums. Some are state run and some privately run. One such ‘touristy’ museum isn’t too far from me. I like to visit when I can because this museum houses two of the things I hold dear from the old west.

 

potbelliedstoveontrainforP&PblogPotbellied Stoves— Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the pot belly stove. A cute appliance used to heat a room, the pot belly stove is made from cast iron and has a bulge in the middle, hence the name. The stove was mainly found in the mercantile or school house, and later on train cars. Some potbellies were equipped with a shelf to boil a pot of coffee or to cook a pot of stew. Franklin is also credited with inventing a large cast iron box that was set on top of the hearth and used for cooking. If I could, I’d fill the house with several of them. Not for the heat they provided, but to add to my collection of all things western.

Stagecoaches—The first of the Concord stagecoaches was built in 1827 by the Abbot ConcordstageforP&PblogDowning Company and weighed more than 2,000 pounds. The Concord had a reputation for being comfortable and sturdy. Each coach built was given a number by the Abbot Downing Company, and used leather strap braces beneath the coach instead of a spring suspension to create a swinging motion verses a jostling, up-and-down motion. At the front and back of the coach, leather boots held luggage and mail. The top of the stage also held luggage, and more than a dozen people if needed. The inside bore three seats of leather and could hold up to nine passengers. Those who sat on the middle seat had no back support and had to hold onto leather straps suspended from the ceiling. Curtains at the windows were also fashioned from leather and rolled up and down.

Both the potbellied stove and the stagecoach are featured in my work, Debra’s Bandit. Debra manages Revolving Point’s mercantile. She uses the potbellied stove daily to provide coffee and tea for her customers while they shop or spend a few extra minutes chatting with her. The stagecoach brings newcomers to the fire-stricken city weekly. One new arrival in particular has Gage running for cover every time he encounters the husband-hunting Jessie Kane. No way in hell is he going to end up with her noose around his neck.

 

Excerpt from Debra’s Bandit:

Debra's_BanditWith the icy sensations continuing to prick the back of his neck, Gage ushered Jessie across the thoroughfare and up the steps to the boardwalk.

“So this is Revolving Point,” she said, looking around at the empty lots lining both sides of the street. “It’s not much.”

“Had more businesses last year. Saloons. A couple of hotels. The fire burned them to the ground.” He assessed the street ahead of them. Deserted, except for Earl at the far end of town. He’d brought the stage to a halt in front of the livery and now climbed down from the driver’s box. “Folks like it this way. Quiet.”

“You don’t?” She arched a brow.

“Got a bed to sleep in and food to eat.” And Debra to fuss over me. His gut wrenched at that and he turned his attention to the plate glass window they passed—Miller’s. He peered over the swinging doors and saw the doves still sat at tables talking. He’d spent his first night in town with Trudy seeing to a need. Then he’d learned Debra was here and had ceased any further involvement with Miller’s girls.

Debra won’t be fussing over me much longer. A week at most. Then he wouldn’t see her again for a long time.

“Mayor Randall told me about the fire in the wire he sent me. You must be one of the people he mentioned who didn’t flee, who stayed behind to save your home and help rebuild.” Jessie’s comment intruded on his thoughts as they stepped off the boardwalk and crossed the intersection.

“Irishmen are doing most of the rebuilding.” He’d learned long ago never to reveal anything about himself to a stranger. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t pry into someone else’s affairs. Man or woman, he preferred to know about those who crossed his path. Especially when someone raised his suspicions as Jessie’s smile had outside the telegraph and mail. Even now, calculation still lingered in her eyes, and with no ring on her finger, he concluded she searched for a husband. “Where are you from?”

“Virginia.”

“You’re a long way from home.” Gage ushered her up the steps to the next boardwalk, the sound of voices and a fiddle playing wafting toward him from the eatery at the next intersection. “What do your folks think about you coming all this way by yourself?”

“They’re dead. There’s no one but me.” She looked up at him, her eyes soft. “I hope to rectify that with this job the mayor has given me. I want a home of my own. I couldn’t hold onto Pa’s farm. The work and taxes were too much. If I save the money I earn, I can hire those Irishmen you mentioned to build something for me here in town.”

And find someone else for your husband while they do

 

Debra’s Bandit is available in both print and e-book format.  You can order your very own copy from Amazon by clicking on the book cover image above.

Thank you, fillies, for having me as a guest on your blog today. It is always a pleasure to visit with you and your readers. As an added bonus for your readers visiting with me today, I am giving away three e-book copies of Debra’s Bandit.

Julie

Updated: January 14, 2015 — 10:36 pm

Burpee Seeds – A Short History

wg-logo-picHi, Winnie Griggs here.  With the start of the new year I’ve been in a cleaning out and de-cluttering mood.  And I’ve been surprised by the number of things I’ve come across that I’d forgotten I had.  One of the items is a pretty little tray, with a picture on front that is a reproduction of a picture that was featured in a 1913 Burpee seed catalog.  Which got me to wondering, since I know Burpee Seeds are still around, just how long the Burpee Seed Company has been in business.  Which naturally gave me an excellent excuse to stop cleaning out my spare room and start in on a little research.

 

W. Atlee Burpee was born in 1858 into an established Philadelphia family that was descended from French Canadian Huguenots.  Both his father and grandfather were physicians and it was expected that Atlee would follow in their footsteps.  But Atlee himself had different ideas.

From an early age he had an interest in animals and plants.   He started with poultry Atleebreeding (chickens, geese, turkeys) but it wasn’t long before he was also working with livestock, dogs and plants.  Atlee was fascinated with the still-new and little-respected science of genetics.  A man who loved research, Atlee conducted his own experiments, and met with a great deal of success.   He corresponded with poultry experts across the world and contributed articles to poultry journals as well.

In 1876, when Atlee was eighteen, he took a loan of $1000, most of which was provided by his mother, and started a mail-order chicken business out of the family home.  Because of the success of his breeding experiments and the numerous articles he’d written, many poultry farmers already knew his name and expertise.  His business became so successful that he was soon able to open a poultry and feed store in Philadelphia.  Because of a growing demand from his customer for quality vegetable seed, by 1878 Burpee had formed W. Atlee Burpee & Company.

But Atlee had a near-obsession with innovation and improvement.  And he had the intellect and skills to follow through on this keen interest.  In 1877 he was able to introduce a new variety of cabbage he called Surehead, in 1881 he produced an improved carrot, in 1884 it was both an improved celery and a better pepper and in 1887 he produced an improved radish..

ICatalogn 1888 the company established Foodhook Farms in Doylston, PA to test new flowers and vegetables.    This was before the US government had a seed testing or research station of their on.

Atlee traveled extensively through Europe and the US every summer.  And much of his travel time was spent visiting farms.  When he found flowers or vegetables he thought of as exceptional, he would ship these to Fordhook Farms where they could be tested and crossed with other seed stock to produce hybrids – in fact Foodhook Farms was on the leading edge of this type of seed production.

Although garden seed production became the company’s primary business, Atlee and his successors never forgot the company’s beginnings and it wasn’t until 1940 that live poultry disappeared entirely from the Burpee catalog.

At the time W. Atlee Burpee died in 1915, the company he founded was the largest seed company in the world and was receiving approximately 10,000 orders a day.  Burpee’s employed 300 people and was sending out a million catalogs a year.

Atlee was succeeded as head of the firm by his 22 year old son David.  It was shortly after David took over the company that World War I began taking a toll on seed production in Europe which pushed America to the forefront of world seed production.  David Burpee was one of the forces behind the ‘War Gardens’ movement of WW I.  This is what he had to say about it:

Food will win the war , we were told by Washington and I decided the best way I could help our country’s war effort was by showing people how to grow a good share of their food right in their own back yards. To dramatize this, I set up what we called War Gardens in a number of cities. The biggest attention-getter was the one in New York. It was in Union Square, directly opposite an imitation battleship bristling with wooden guns aimed at the tomatoes and cabbages. It was a huge success. I would guess that that garden alone must have started thousands of people gardening.

So, do you have any experience with Burpee’s seeds or their catalog?  And was any of this information a surprise to you.

And since, as I said, I’m trying to de-clutter my home, but would like to give some of my ‘treasures’ to folks who will appreciate them, I’m going to give the tray pictured here to one of today’s commenters.Tray

Updated: January 12, 2015 — 2:21 pm

The Fine Print by Linda Broday

LindaFellow Filly sister, Karen Witemeyer, blogged a few months back about the Montgomery Ward catalog in the 1800s. Well, I immediately went to Amazon and bought a copy. Not only was the extensive list of merchandise interesting but I loved the fine print in the front.

They assure the purchaser that they employ no agents or traveling collectors and lay out their rules for ordering.

RULE #1:

“We will ship goods by freight to ANYONE if money accompanies the order. We will ship goods in our name and collect the bill through your banker if sufficient money is sent with the order to cover the freight charges. Be sure to give us the name and location of your bank.”

 freight wagonRULE #2:

“Goods will be sent by express, C.O.D. (collect on delivery) when, in our opinion, the articles ordered are suitable. Value, bulk, weight, class, distance, etc., will determine our acceptance or refusal of all such orders. We will not send C.O.D. for amounts under $5.00.” (It goes on to say that the purchaser has to pay all possible shipping charges up front and that no goods will be sent to points off a railway unless paid for in advance. It seems the prepayment of the shipping was a big deal.

RULE #3:

montgomery-ward-catalogMail Shipments (sending prepaid goods through the U.S. mail): “Postage by mail is 1 cent per ounce or 16 cents per pound. No one package must exceed 4 pounds, but any number of packages may be sent to the same address weighing 4 lbs. or less each. Packages can be sent by registered mail for 8 cents per package extra. We positively require cash in advance for both goods and postage. We will return the amount overpaid, if any. Explosives, poisonous or inflammable articles are unmailable. Sharp pointed instruments and glass such as needles, knives, pens, lantern slides etc. can go in mailing cases at an extra cost of 5 cents.”

And then there’s a section on insuring the merchandise ordered by mail. The cost was 5 cents for each package of $5.00 or under in value. Value of goods from $5 to $10 was 10 cents. Over that was an extra 5 cents additional. They tell the customer to be sure to write “Insure” on their order and enclose the appropriate fee.

RULE #4:

Discounts for cash. They gave 2% discount on orders $20 to $50. 3% on 50 to $100 and on up to 5% for orders over $150. But this only applied to cash sales. They even addressed how to send money for those paying in cash—Bank Draft, Postal Money Order, or Express Money Order.

And of course there’s a section addressing returned goods. Their motto was money back guarantee and they stood behind their promise to the customer.

Of Interest: There are 36 pages of books of all kinds listed in this 1895 catalog.

This book is an invaluable resource of historical writers or just anyone who loves history. You can find a copy on Amazon.com. http://amzn.com/0486223779

As you read this, I’ll be en route to San Antonio, Texas for the huge Romance of America conference. Don’t let that stop you. Come on in and leave a comment and I’ll respond when I can.

Updated: July 20, 2014 — 11:14 am

Cowboy Catalogue

newsletter_headerjpg - 2

montgomery wardAaron Montgomery Ward was a visionary. Working as a door-to-door salesman in Illinois, he dealt with rural customers on a regular basis who longed to purchase goods readily available in cities but were at the mercy of local dry goods merchants who had little inventory space and no competition. Prices for special orders were exorbitant and quality could not be guaranteed. Ward believed that people would be willing to wait for goods if they could be purchased at fair price, so he set up a mail-order business in a single room in Chicago.

In 1872, he put out his first catalogue, a single sheet of paper containing descriptions of 163 items focused mostly on farming implements. In 1875, he began the unprecedented campaign of “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” His popularity skyrocketed. By 1883, his catalogue had become known as the “Wish Book” and had swollen to 240 pages with over 10,000 items. Montgomery Ward was the Amazon.com of the 19th century.

Out of all the resource books I use when writing, none gets more regular use than my reprint of the 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalogue. The information is priceless. Not only can I see pictures of items I want to describe (everything from furniture, to clothing, to kitchen utensils, to jewelry), but I can see prices and detailed descriptions. To give you an example, here are a few images taken from the catalogue. Even a rugged cowboy could get just about anything he needed from the Wish Book. Below are just a few samples:

MW SaddleMW Hat

MW Rifles

  • Do you remember flipping through catalogues as a kid? What were you’re favorite items to wish for?

I can remember the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogues that were so thick, my mom used them as a booster seat for me at the dinner table.

Speaking of mail order – or Kindle order – my novella, A Cowboy Unmatched, which was originally printed in the collection A Match Made in Texas, is now available as an e-single from Amazon for only $1.99. This is Neill Archer’s story. Right now, you can actually get all four of the novellas in the series for less than the collection as a whole if you buy them as e-singles.

Click cover to order

A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer

Tired of living in the shadow of his older brothers, Neill Archer leaves the family ranch, determined to prove himself his own man. After two years of doing everything from laying railroad track to driving cattle, he’s nearly saved enough to purchase his own spread. While passing through a small town in the Texas panhandle, a handwritten ad literally falls into his lap during the local church service and convinces Neill that God is steering him toward his next job.

There are two things Clara Danvers cannot hide—her grandmother’s Comanche blood and her hugely pregnant stomach. After her husband got himself shot cheating at cards six months back, she has worked hard to make the shabby cabin he’d left behind truly hers. But there are some things a pregnant woman can’t repair, and a leaky roof is one of them. When a handsome cowboy shows up at her door with a tale about a nameless woman hiring him to fix her roof, she’s suspicious but desperate enough to let him work.

Scarred by the men who have failed her in the past, Clara is forced to trust the stranger when danger threatens her child. Neill might prove to be an able protector, but can she trust him with the battered remains of her heart?

Cheryl St.John: Mail Order Merchandise

montgomery-ward-catalogThe Montgomery Ward catalog has been called one of the most influential American books ever published. One such nominating committee, the Grolier Club, stated: “The mail order catalogue has been perhaps the greatest single influence in increasing the standard of American living. It brought the benefit of wholesale prices to city and hamlet, to the crossroads and prairie.”

Aaron Montgomery Ward was born in Chatham, New Jersey in 1844 and his family went west to Niles, Michigan in 1853 where his father took up the cobbler”s trade. Aaron left school at 14 to work in brickyards and a barrel factory where he learned his most valuable lesson: “I learned I was not physically or mentally suited for brick or barrel making.”

After clerking at a shoe store and then a country store, earning $6 a month,
plus board, Ward was then ready to go to the big city. At that time Chicago was home to 30,000 people and known, none too affectionately, as “The Mudhole of the Prairies.” The streets were barely above the level of Lake Michigan and covered with bottomless muck.

ward-picBut by the late 1860s, Chicago was teeming with post-Civil War energy. Fifteen railroad lines moved 150 trains a day out of the busy terminals. Like thousands of other young men Ward arrived in Chicago in 1866 and began work in various dry goods firms, including one operated by Marshall Field. He became a salesman, his income rising to a whopping $12 a week.

As he made tedious rounds through the mud in his horse and buggy, he took particular notice of the country stores along his route. They were gathering places with potbelly stoves and moonlighted as meeting places for local farmers. However these outlets were far from helpful when the farmers had to actually buy something. Selections were small and prices high. Storekeepers were at the mercy of big-city wholesalers.

After considering how he could help the disadvantaged farmer, Ward decided on a mail order store. He planned to set up in the big city where he could easily reach suppliers and buy in quantity to get the best prices. He could send a catalog listing his prices to farmers who could order and receive their items by mail, cash on delivery. It was not a new idea but the few direct mail firms at the time sold only one or two items. Ward was going to bring the whole store to the farmer.

ward-catalogueWard worked and saved. He talked about his idea with friends and associates. They all agreed he would go broke trying to sell goods sight-unseen to back country folk. He was not dissuaded. By 1871 he finally saved enough money to buy a small amount of goods at wholesale prices. On October 8, 1871 the Great Chicago Fire engulfed the city for 30 hours. Every building in a 4-square mile area was destroyed. So was Ward”s inventory.

Ward went back to work. By August 1872 he scraped up money and convinced a few people to join him, raising $1600 in working capital. He printed up a one-page price list and hand-addressed the first circulars to the Grangers, a co-operative farm supply organization. One of his earliest price lists contained 163 items under the banner Supplied By The Cheapest Cash House In America. Most of the items cost one dollar, including clothing, a 6-view stereoscope, and a backgammon set.

wards-corsetFor most of 1873, Ward”s mailbox was bare. His partners wanted out and Ward—who still had his sales job—managed to buy them out of their small investments. The Panic of 1873 quickly sunk even the established traditional retailers.

His business was ridiculed by the Chicago Tribune as a disreputable firm “hidden from public gaze with no merchandise displayed and reachable only through the post office.” Under threat of a lawsuit, the Tribune printed a retraction. The retraction was added to the next flyer and sales increased!

About this time, ready-made clothing began appearing. The accepted belief was that no two people had the same measurements; therefore tailors were needed to make quality garments. But the crunch for uniforms in the Civil War had demonstrated that certain combinations of measurements could be standardized. Ward told his faraway customers: “Give your age and describe your general build and we will nine times out of ten give you a fit.”

Ward wrote all the early copy. He always included a message in his catalogs, often giving money-saving tips. “It is best to make your order around five dollars. Shipping charges on small orders will eat up your savings. Consider joining a buying club with your neighbors.”

wards-hatsConsumers came to trust Ward”s unseen store, and business grew rapidly. He bound his first catalog in 1874, and in 1875 the book expanded to seventy-two pages. Worrying that he might become too big, Ward took an ad in Farmers Voice just to reassure his customers he had not lost touch with their needs.

In 1893 Ward sold controlling interest to George R. Thorne who had come on as a partner late in 1873. Ward remained president, but after a while he stopped attending board meetings. The last twenty years of his life were spent preserving the Chicago waterfront as a park for the people. He spent over two hundred thousand dollars of his own money to defend the public”s right to open space.

His long-time efforts to prevent the erection of buildings along Lake Michigan won him the title of The Watch Dog of the Lake Front. At one time there were forty-six building projects planned in the park, and he fought them all successfully, losing many influential friends along the way. Finally, just before his death in 1913 he won his final legal battle to forever keep the waterfront an open area.

 
ward1892The Tribune, no friend of Montgomery Ward, wrote: “We know now that Mr. Ward was right, was farsighted, was public spirited. That he was unjustly criticized as a selfish obstructionist or as a fanatic. Before he died, it is pleasant to think Mr. Ward knew that the community had swung round to his side and was grateful for the service he had performed in spite of misunderstanding and injustice.”

 

It’s amazing to think he was the forerunner for all the mail order catalogues that would follow, and that shopping by mail would become commonplace. Imagine what Mr. Ward would think of telemarketing or the incredible world of ebay!

 

Quite honestly, I make most of my book purchases online, plus a great many other things, from toys to cabinet hardware. The most awesome things I’ve purchased online recently are reproduction Jadeite cabinet knobs and glass handles and a really cool neck and shoulder heating pad stuffed with flaxseed. Received any interesting deliveries in the mail lately?stjohn.jpg

 

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Vickie McDonough: Mail Order Brides—Matrimonial Mayhem?

“Wanted: A girl who will love, honest, true not sour; a nice little cooing dove and willing to work in flour.”

“I am 33 years of age, and as regards looks can average with most men. I am looking for a lady to make her my wife, as I am heartily tired of bachelor life. I desire a lady not over 28 or 30 years of age, not ugly, well educated and musical. Nationality makes no difference, only I prefer not to have a lady of Irish birth. She must have at least $20,000.” (Yeah, good luck with that, Mister)

Mail order brides have been a part of American history since 1619, when the first white women arrived in Jamestown. The Virginia Company of London sent several shipments of mail-order brides to America, in exchange for tobacco, so it’s no surprise these ladies became known as tobacco brides.

With the westward expansion of the U.S. frontier, the popularity of mail-order brides exploded. Men traveled west for adventure, to get free land, and to find gold, but once they settled and the lust for adventure wore off, they realized something vital was missing—decent women—the kind a man wanted to raise his children.

At the same time war, disease, and the lack of quality medicine, left many woman widowed, fatherless, or spinsters. With little means of support and few jobs available for women, these desperate gals often became mail-order brides. Marrying a stranger and having a home and children to tend seemed a far better alternative to working twelve hours a day in a sweat shop, or even worse, being forced to become a kept woman or a prostitute.

Even though readers love mail-order bride stories, which usually have a happy ending, in truth, many of these marriages failed. But it wasn’t always the woman who was disappointed, sometimes the man was the unhappy one. Here’s an eye-opening advertisement warning men to be cautious and women to be truthful:

NOTICE: Due to the influx of Eastern “mail-order brides” into our community & the hasty marriages that follow, several complaints have been lodged by no longer happy grooms.

Therefore:
Let it be known that any marriage into which a man is seduced by the use of:
False hair
Cosmetic paints
Artificial bosoms (they actually had those back then?)
Bolstered hips (and why would you want these?)
Padded limbs (uh…no thanks)
without the man’s knowledge, shall stand null & void if he so desires.

-Judge John H. Arbuckle
Dated April 3, 1873

DO NOT BE DECEIVED

(Note: This warning first appeared in several issues of Matrimonial News. It was reprinted in Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-order Brides by Chris Enss, as were the two advertisements at the beginning of this article)

Hmm…I’m guessing that men must have liked fuller women back then. Can’t you imagine the surprise of some farmer as his new wife undressed on their wedding night and removed her big dress, false hair, fake bosoms, and hip and limb pads. She went from stout to scrawny. J

Needless to say, we still have mail-order brides today, but you hear about few happy endings. For a romance though, a happy ending is crucial. This was my year of writing mail-order brides stories, and I guaranteed you a HEA.

Second Chance Brides is book two in my Texas Boardinghouse Brides series. Here’s a short blurb: Shannon O’Neil and Leah Bennett, are stranded in Lookout, Texas, without husbands or future plans. Thankfully, the marshal has ordered the rascally Corbett brothers to pay for the women’s lodging at the boardinghouse, but will the brothers’ idea of hosting Saturday socials really bring these women the kind of loves they long for? Will Shannon choose to marry just for security? Will Leah reject love when the challenges mount?

Ride the transcontinental railroad as marriage arrives by mail-order—and just in time for Christmas. Annika arrives in Wyoming to discover her intended is missing. Jolie’s journey to Nevada is derailed by disaster. Elizabeth carries a load of secrets to Nebraska. And Amelia travels to California to wrap up her final attempts at matchmaking. Will the holiday season be the ticket to spark love in unexpected ways?

So, do you have a favorite mail-order bride book that you’ve read—or do you have an interesting mail-order bride story in your family heritage? Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Christmas Mail Order Brides.
Thanks for inviting me to be a guest again on Petticoats & Pistols. I love this website and always enjoy my time here.

 

Click covers to buy on Amazon
Vickie McDonough
www.vickiemcdonough.com

Updated: April 14, 2015 — 1:12 pm