On August 18th, 1872, a traveling dry goods salesman named Aaron Montgomery Ward founds his retail company with its first catalog. Not much of an actual catalog, the first issue was a single sheet, 8×12 inches, that listed 163 items available for purchase and ordering instructions. This first catalog was a feat in and of itself since Wars and his partners had lost their first inventory in the Great Chicago Fire of October, 1871.
After a slow start, Ward’s began to soon enjoyed healthy growth. Credit for this early growth goes to a “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” policy started in 1875. In 1883, the “Wish Book,” as the catalog had become to be commonly known, had grown to 240 pages with over 10,000 items. By 1904, the company was sending out the 4lb. catalog to over three million customers.
Ward’s opened a network of distribution centers across the country in the early 1900s to improve service and build the business. The first brick and mortar location opened in 1926 and in Plymouth, Indiana.
”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was created by Robert L May as an illustrated coloring book and poem to hand out to children visiting Ward’s Santa for Christmas.
After a successful run until the 1950s, Montgomery Ward’s missed the move to the suburbs that many other retailers capitalized on and the increased competition from discounters like Target and Walmart. Eventual the company was bought by Mobile Oil and then GE but the infusion of money from these companies failed to save the dying company. After 113 years, the catalog closed operations in 1987. The company ended its 130 years with the liquidation and closure of their stores in 2001.
The name lives on today with a catalog and on-line retailer with the same name.