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Richard Warren Sears: My Hero

November 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Richard Warren Sears is one of my favorite characters in American history. He truly was a marketing genius, a fascinating entrepreneur and a real family man. Throughout his life, he maintained a deep and profound devotion to his family.

Richard Warren Sears was about 16 years old when his father died. That’s when Richard went to work to support the family.

By the mid-1880s, he’d found gainful employment as a railway station agent in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Early in his career, Sears paid a mere $50 for a shipment of watches that arrived at the train station and had been refused by a local merchant. Selling them to other railway agents and passengers, Sears turned $50 worth of watches into $5000 in a few months.

His timing could not possibly have been any better.

With the advent of the steam locomotive, people could now travel easily throughout the country, but there was one problem with all this zipping to and fro:  In the early 1880s, our country had 300 time zones.

Many rural communities still relied on sun-time. Travelers headed west we’re expected to subtract one minute for every 12 miles of travel. Travelers headed east did the opposite.

Hope youre good at ciphering!

In November 1883, railway companies lobbied Congress to establish four time zones, to help standardize complicated train schedules. And what need did this new-fangled law breed? Watches.

Suddenly, they were a very hot commodity.

In 1886, 23-year-old Sears invested his $5000 cash profit into a new watch business and called it the R. W. Sears Watch Company. He advertised in regional newspapers and soon moved the business from Minneapolis to Chicago.

Occasionally the watches came back needing repairs, so in 1887, Sears decided it was time to hire a helper. A young watch repairman from Hammond, Indiana responded to Sears help wanted ad and was hired immediately.

And what was the watch repairman’s name?

Alvah Curtis Roebuck.

Richard and Alvah became good friends and eventually partners.

In 1891, Sears and Roebuck published their first mail order catalog (52 pages), offering jewelry and watches. By 1893, the little catalog had grown to 196 pages and offered a variety of items, including sewing machines, shoes, saddles and more. By the following year, the catalog hit 507 pages.

In 1895, Alvah Roebuck decided he wanted out. The 31-year old watch repairman’s health was collapsing under the strain of this new fast-growing business. The enormous burden of debt coupled with Sears wild ways of doing business were too much for mild-mannered, methodical Alvah.

He asked Sears to buy his one-third interest in the company for $25,000.

Of course, Sears didn’t have that kind of cash on hand, so he offered Chicago businessmen Aaron Nusbaum and Julius Rosenwald (Nusbaums brother-in-law) a one-half interest in the company. The price - $75,000, or $37,500 each. Six years later, in 1901, Rosenwald and Sears decided to buy out Nusbaum and offered him $1 million for his share of the business. Nusbaum refused and asked for $1.25 million, which he received.

(Pretty tidy profit for six years!)

Following a nationwide depression in 1907, Rosenwald and Sears were at loggerheads on the best course of action to weather the economic storm. This disagreement really did highlight their radically different concepts about everything.

On November 1, 1908, 44-year-old Richard W. Sears emerged from a terse, closed-door meeting with Rosenwald and announced that he would resign as President from his own company.

Sears reason for retiring: He didnt see the work as fun anymore. A short time later, Sears sold his stock for $10 million dollars. There was another reason for his departure. Sears wanted more time to take care of his ailing wife, who had suffered from ill health for years.

In September 1914, at the age of 50, Sears died from kidney disease, having turned $50 worth of pocket watches into a multimillion dollar mail-order empire. His estate was valued at more than $20 million.

Not too bad for a kid that got his start selling unwanted watches at a little train depot in Redwood Falls.

To read Part II of this blog, click here.

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Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. Hes shown here in his office in Sears World Headquarters (Chicago).

Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. He's shown here in his office the Sears' Headquarters (Chicago), at the corner of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street. It's claimed that Mr. Sears had one of the very first telephones in the state of Illinois. He had another telephone installed in his mother's home in Oak Park. Now *that's* a good son! :)

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Look at that telephone!

Look at that telephone! I bet that would fetch a pretty price on eBay! And you may notice that Mr. Sears is holding a Sears catalog in his right hand. He was quite the promoter.

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Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown above).

Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first "Sears Modern Homes" catalog (shown above).

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Did you know that Sears sold cars in the 1950s? You’ll never guess the brand name they gave to their vehicles!  :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really fun blog, click here.

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The Glendale: A Good Substantial House of Nice Appearance

November 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

World-famous Realtor and Sears House aficionado Catarina Bannier found this Glendale in the DC area, and sent me a bevy of wonderful photos, showcasing this beautiful Glendale.

Probably built in the early 1910s, this house is in amazingly original condition. And Catarina got some great photos!

The double windows situated at the corners of this foursquare make the Glendale easy to spot. The smaller windows (front and side) with the diamond muntins are also a distinctive feature.

To learn more about the Sears Homes that Catarina has found in DC, click here.

To learn more about Sears Houses in Illinois, click here.

The Sears Glendale, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Glendale, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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An unhappy Glendale in Mounds, Illinois (just outside of Cairo).

An unhappy Glendale in Mounds, Illinois (just outside of Cairo). This photo was snapped in 2010. Most likely, this house has now been torn down.

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Mounds

"Every bit of space has been used to the best advantage..." And all this for $1,748.

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And heres Catarinas Glendale in the DC area.

And here's Catarina's Glendale in the DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view.

Another view. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Did I mention that this house is in wonderfully original condition?  WOW, look at the details!

Did I mention that this house is in wonderfully original condition? WOW, look at the details! How many hands have brushed past the finial on this newel post in the last 100 years? Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up from the original catalog page.

Close-up of the newel posts from the original catalog page.

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Original windows, too!

Original windows, too! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Out

The Glendale had two small fixed sashes on the first floor.

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Inside, it looked like this!

Inside, it looks like this! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The newel posts inside are even prettier!

The newel posts inside are even prettier! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And further down the staircase, youll see the distinctive plinth block that is typically found in Sears Homes. The problem of matching up difficult compound joints was solved with this simple block.

And further down the staircase, you'll see the distinctive plinth block that is typically found in Sears Homes. The problem of matching up difficult compound joints was solved with this simple block. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres an original light fixture in one of the bedrooms.

And there's an original light fixture in one of the bedrooms. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Built

This massive built-in China hutch retains its original finish. And it's beautiful! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Original hardware, too!

Original hardware, too! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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original

If you look closely at the floorplan, you'll see the built-in hutch in the dining room. Also, take a look at the lone column in the doorway between the "parlor" and the dining room.

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wino

The second floor shows four tiny bedrooms and a very long hallway.

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A view of those original windows from inside.

A view of those original windows from inside. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Inside, there's a column and small shelf on just ONE side of the living room/dining room entry. This is also shown on the floorplan (above). Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

To read about the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here. You’ll be glad you did!  :)

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The Martha Washington: A Vision of Hospitality

May 11th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

There’s something about a Dutch Colonial that just makes me swoon, and the Martha Washington is a fine example of the Dutch Colonial design.

And it was spacious, too. Sans optional sunporch, the Martha Washington was about 1,800 square feet, with four good-sized bedrooms upstairs. Unlike so many early 20th Century homes, the Martha Washington also had an abundance of closet space.

As the text in the catalog page said, “The view to the visitor or passerby presents a vision of hospitality.”

An interesting bit of trivia: The Martha Washington has the same floor plan as the Sears Alhambra, with two small differences. The Martha Washington doesn’t have the box window on the front (as does the Alhambra) and the Alhambra is smaller. The Martha Washington is 28′ by 32′ and the Alhambra is 28′ by 28′.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

To see more pictures of pretty kit homes, click here.

Martha Washington, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Honor Bilt "Martha Washington," as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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This testimonial appeared in the 1924 Sears catalog.

Mr. Brewood was darn happy with his Sears House in DC! (1924 Sears catalog).

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A side view of the Martha Washington, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

As seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Houseie

This Martha Washington in Lombard, IL has its original windows and STORM windows!

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How appropos! A Martha Washington in Virginia!  (Bedford, to be precise.)

How apropos! A Martha Washington in Virginia! (Bedford, to be precise.)

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Located in Oakwood, Ohio, this Martha Washington is in beautiful condition.  And it looks happy, too!  Photo is copyright 2012 Mark W. Risley and can not be used or reprorduced without written permission.

Located in Oakwood, Ohio, this Martha Washington is in beautiful condition. The red door and green roof are nice complements. And the house *looks* happy, too! Photo is copyright 2012 Mark W. Risley and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Cincinnatti

Every Martha should have a flag flying in front of it! This beauty is in Cincinnati Ohio.

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Martha meets Maggy!  The two-story columns are reminiscent of the Sears Magnolia, but I seriously doubt that this poor Martha Washington was BUILT with these super-sized columns.

Martha meets Maggy! The two-story columns are reminiscent of the Sears Magnolia, but I seriously doubt that this poor Martha Washington (in Chicago area) was BUILT with these super-sized columns. And look - another flag!

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Floorplan

The Martha Washington (shown here) and the Alhambra (shown below) had the same floor plan, with two minor differences: The Alhambra had a box window on the front and the Martha Washington was four feet wider than the Alhambra.

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floorplan

Alhambra's floor plan.

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The kitchen!

And the kitchen was "the last word in convenience and sanitary comfort"!!

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houseie

The Martha Washington.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

See more pictures of fine-looking old houses by clicking here.

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The Amazing Collection of Sears Homes - in the Midwest!

August 28th, 2010 Sears Homes 10 comments

Sears Homes were kit homes that were sold right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog in the early 1900s. More than 370 designs of kit homes were offered - everything ranging from Arts and Crafts bungalows to foursquares to Colonial Revivals. These homes came in 30,000-piece kits and were shipped to all 48 states. Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have these homes assembled in about 90 days.

Today, the only way to find these kit homes is literally one by one. And that’s what I do. When I decided that Sears Homes would be my career, I endeavored to memorize each of those 370 designs of Sears Homes. Now I can drive the streets of small town America and find the Sears Homes - one by one.

Not surprisingly, the Midwest has an amazing collection of Sears Homes in particular and kit homes in general. Below are a few pictures of the kit homes I’ve found during my travels in the Midwest.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes, including Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Montgomery Ward, Harris Brothers and more.

To read about an Illinois ghost town that once had many Sears Homes, click here.

Did you know Buster Keaton built a kit home? Learn more about that here.

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Interested in old murder mysteries? Click here to read about my Aunt Addie!

The Sears Sherburne was not a very popular house, but it was a beauty!

The Sears Sherburne was not a very popular house, but it was a beauty!

Close-up of the catalog image

Close-up of the catalog image

Sears Sherburne in Peoria, IL

Sears Sherburne in Decatur, IL

Sears Willard, as seen in a 1928 promotional ad

Sears Willard, as seen in a 1928 promotional ad

Sears Willard in Peoria, Illinois

Sears Willard in Peoria, Illinois

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The Sears Ivanhoe was one of thir most magnificent homes.

The Sears Ivanhoe was one of their most magnificent homes.

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

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The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

The only Bandon Ive ever seen was in Pulaski, Illinois (near Cairo, at the southern most end of Illinois).

The only "Bandon" I've ever seen was in Pulaski, Illinois (near Cairo, at the southern most end of Illinois). This Bandon is a perfect match to the catalog picture.

A pre-WW1 Sears Home: Modern Home #264P202

A pre-WW1 Sears Home: Modern Home #264P202

The Sears #264P202 in the flesh. This house is in Okawville, IL

The Sears #264P202 in the flesh. This house is in Okawville, IL

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From the Sears Modern Homes catalog, heres the Sears Glendale

From the Sears Modern Homes catalog, here's the Sears Glendale

Sears Glendale in Cairo, Illinois

Sears Glendale in Cairo, Illinois

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Sears Gladstone from the Modern Homes catalog

Sears Gladstone from the Modern Homes catalog

A Sears Gladstone in Carbondale, Illinois

A Sears Gladstone in Carbondale, Illinois

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Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

This Fullerton is in Aurora, Illinois

This Fullerton is in Aurora, Illinois

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The Alhambra was a very popular model for Sears

The Alhambra was a very popular model for Sears

An Alhambra in Casey, Illinois

An Alhambra in Casey, Illinois

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The Sears Argyle was also a very popular house for Sears

The Sears Argyle was also a very popular house for Sears

Heres a Sears Argyle in New Baden, Illinois.

Here's a Sears Argyle in New Baden, Illinois.

Below is a perfect little Crescent in Bloomington, Illinois. Every detail is perfect!

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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To see more pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

A Dazzling Collection of Sears Homes in Northern Illinois

August 23rd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Not surprisingly, there’s an abundance of Sears kit home in Northern Illinois.

In fact, Elgin, Illinois has the largest known collection of Sears Homes in the country! This southwestern Chicago suburb has more than 210 Sears Homes!

To learn more about the houses in Elgin, visit the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, and check out The Elgin Illinois Sears House Research Project (by Rebecca Hunter).

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

A bungalow from the Golden West the Osborn was another very popular house. This one is on a corner lot in Annapolis.

A "bungalow from the Golden West" the Osborn was another very popular house. This picture from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog also shows interior views of The Osborn.

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

Sears Newcastle in northern Illinois

Sears Newcastle in Geneva, Illinois

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina (2024) in West Chicago

Sears Marina (2024) in Geneva, Illinois

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

Significantly remodeled Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

To read the next blog, click here.

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Keeping Children in Their Place

August 5th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Several years ago when I was a freelance writer, I was asked to do a feature story on the Foursquare housing style, which is so prevalent in the Midwest (and was also a popular style for Sears Homes. My editor said I needed to get into a few houses and take plenty of interior shots, too. I found a kind soul in Illinois that allowed me to come right in to her home and take several pictures.

In the dining room/living room area, I saw that she had built-in bookcase colonnades between the two rooms. This is a nice feature that is frequently found in these foursquare homes. As I turned the corner into her dining room, I saw that the bookcases on the dining room side had glass doors. I was busy snapping photos and looking through the SLR viewfinder (this was in the old 35-mm film days) when I saw a small child looking back at me on the other side of those glass doors. I let out an audible gasp and lowered the camera.

And this is what I saw:
Keeping Children In Their Place

I sent the image to my editor who wrote back and said, “Thanks for sharing that. I’ve asked my husband to start working on one immediately that’s big enough for several teenagers.”

Despite my encouragement, my editor decided not to publish this particular photo with the other images.

And I thought it was some of my best work. :)