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Richard Warren Sears: A Few Fun Facts!

November 28th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in my previous blog, Richard Warren Sears was my hero, and he really was a marketing genius.

Here’s my #1 favorite story that showcases his brilliance:

Knowing that many households would have both his catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, Sears purposefully designed his catalog a little shorter and narrower than the Ward catalog. He knew that when the housewife was tidying up the home, the Sears catalog, being smaller, would be stacked on top of the Wards catalog.

The book Sears Roebuck and Company: 100th Anniversary relates that a Sunday School pupil was asked,”Where did the Ten Commandments come from?” The child innocently replied, “From the Sears, Roebuck catalog.”

Local merchants and owners of general stores were up in arms at the low prices Sears offered in his catalog and the bold promises that buyers could save money by eliminating the middle man. Of course, the middle man that Sears wanted to eliminate was the owner of the general store! In more than a few towns, children were promised a free movie ticket for every Sears catalog they brought into the local store. The catalogs were then piled high and ceremoniously burned in a massive bonfire.

In 1896, the annual sales for the mail order firm of Sears and Roebuck were $1.2 million and by 1914 they hit $101 million. At its peak in 1915, the general merchandise catalog contained 100,000 items in 1200 pages and weighed four pounds.

During World War I, the Sears Roebuck catalog was the book most requested by American soldiers recovering in overseas hospitals. Julius Rosenwald sailed to France in the midst of the Great War (WWI) with four huge wooden crates, each filled with Sears catalogs, for distribution to the American boys lying in a hospital. (The Good Old Days; A History of American Morals and Manners as Seen Through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs.)

According to Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew a Sears customer wrote and asked to return several bottles of patent medicine shed purchased from Sears, explaining that the medicine had originally been intended for her husband and he’d since passed on. The clerk who received the inquiry responded by asking the woman if shed like to see a copy of Sears Tombstone Catalog.

The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for Worlds Largest Store. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928.

In the 1930s, Sears sold live baby chicks through their mail order catalogs. The chicks cost ten cents each and safe, live delivery was promised.

In November 1952, Sears announced it would sell the Allstate - a small car with a 100-inch wheelbase, capable of 35 mpg. It was an incredibly “basic” ride, and the first models lacked trunk lids and glove compartments. The little car with a four or six cylinder engine cost $1395 - $1796. Two years later, Sears stopped selling the cars, having sold about 1500. The reason: Sears was ill-prepared to handle the problem of trade-ins.

To see several beautiful photos of this 1950s Dream Machine, click here.

To see a video of the Henry J (the Sears Allstate), click here.

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For 76.99 pounds (British), you can have your own "Henry J" (Sears Allstate) auto. This is a miniature reproduction of the 1952 "Deluxe" Allstate, offered by minimodelshop.com.uk.

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To order your own Henry J, click here.

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WLS was originally started by Sears and Roebuck to use wholly as a promotional tool. WLS stands for Worlds Largest Store. Shown here is the first edition of the WLS (Sears) employee newsletter.

WLS was originally started by Sears and Roebuck to use wholly as a promotional tool. WLS stands for "World's Largest Store." Shown here is the first edition of the WLS (Sears) employee newsletter.

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Sears had a massive lumber mill just outside of Cairo, Illinois. The street was named Sears and Roebuck Road, but in later years, it was split into two dead-end streets by the highway. One side was named Sears Road.

Sears had a massive lumber mill just outside of Cairo, Illinois. The street was named "Sears and Roebuck Road," but in later years, it was split into two dead-end streets by the highway. One side was named "Sears Road."

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And the other side was named Roebuck Road.

And the other side was named "Roebuck Road."

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And Garmin never got the memo...

And Garmin never got the memo...

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To read more about the mill in Cairo, click here.

To read the prior blog about Richard Sears, click here.

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Married By Commerce; Divorced By The Interstate

January 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, the Sears Mill at Cairo, Illinois was an impressive operation, covering 40 acres and employing about 80 full-time workers. About 20 acres were “under roof.” In other words, the site had 20 acres of buildings.

That’s a lot of buildings.

Each day, the railroad cars brought enormous quantities of yellow pine and cypress into the mill, right out of the virgin forests in Louisiana and Mississippi. The 80 employees turned those logs into 10-12 kit homes per day, and each pre-cut home had 12,000 pieces of lumber. That’s a lot of lumber and a lot of work.

The mill (actually in a tiny town just outside of Cairo) was in Urbandale, Illinois. It was located on “Sears and Roebuck Road.” When the interstate came through in the 1970s, it cut a wide swath right through Sears and Roebuck Road, creating two stretches of dead end street on either side of I-57.

On one side, it’s now known as Sears Road. On the other, it’s Roebuck Road.

And on Roebuck Road, there’s another bonus: The Sears Wexford.

A Sears House on Roebuck Road. Or maybe it’s a Roebuck house on Roebuck Road?

Either way, Garmin apparently never got the memo that Sears Roebuck Road had been sliced into two pieces.

And to hear the song that inspired blog’s title, click here:  Married By The Bible, Divorced By The Law.

Special thanks to long-time Cairo resident Richard Kearney, who gave up a day of his life to be my tour guide throughout this area.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

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Sears Road is right off of State Highway 37 in Urbandale, IL.

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And Roebuck Road is on the other side, accessible by Seven Mile Road. Note the little Sears Wexford, waving merrily from the background!

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Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the Bridgeford) on Roebuck Road.

Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the "Bridgeford) on "Roebuck Road."

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Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog). The house in Urbandale is a spot-on match!

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Comparison of the two houses.

Comparison of the two images.

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This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, annoucing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, announcing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

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Close up of the text.

Close up of the text.

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The only thing that remains at the site of the old Sears Mill are these two Rodessas, built about 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

The only remnant of the old 40-acre Sears Mill in Cairo/Urbandale are these two Rodessas, built in 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

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The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

To read about Addie Hoyt, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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