The Way it Was: John Wanamaker

By March 23, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgProbably few people ever had more influence on the American marketplace than Philadelphia’s own John Wanamaker.

Born in 1838, Wanamaker pioneered the concept we know today as the department store. You may have thought they dated back to the Garden of Eden, but it all began in the 1870s. Along with his brother in law Nathan Brown, Wanamaker opened a multi-purpose clothing and specialties store – called Wanamaker’s — in an abandoned railroad depot in Philly.

He went after an upscale market and promised all wool clothing and money back guarantees – radical concepts at the time. He printed the first ever copyright store advertisements. When people discovered that its promises were true, his reputation was made.
I know half my advertising money is wasted, Wanamaker said. Trouble is, I don’t know which half.

Wanamaker just kept innovating: the first in-store restaurant, the first electric lights in a store, the first elevator, the first White Sale. He worked constantly to keep quality high and prices low. People like that sort of thing.

In 1911, Wanamaker expanded the Philly store, featuring a 150 foot high Grand Court with the world’s second largest organ and a great eagle from the 1903 World’s Fair.

Wanamaker’s store became more than a store. It was a place where people went to see and be seen, rather like the malls of today.

And it all started with John Wanamaker

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