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History & News - Sears History - 1886

in the beginning
Picture America in the late 1880s. The states were only 38 in number. Their total population was 58 million and about 65 percent of these people lived in rural areas. Only a dozen or so cities had 200,000 or more residents. And the yearly national income was about $10 billion. This was the scene when, one day in 1886, a Chicago jewelry company shipped some gold-filled watches to an unsuspecting jeweler in a Minnesota hamlet. Thus started a chain of events that led to the founding of Sears.
mr sears
railway station
Richard Sears was an agent of the Minneapolis and St. Louis railway station in North Redwood, Minnesota. Sears job as station agent left him plenty of spare time, so he sold lumber and coal to local residents on the side to make extra money. Later, when he received a shipment of watches - unwanted by a neighboring Redwood Falls jeweler - he was ready. Sears purchased them himself, sold the watches at a nice profit to other station agents up and down the line, and then ordered more for resale.

In 1886 Sears began the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis.

  sears settles in chicago
The following year, Sears moved his business to Chicago and inserted a classified ad in the Chicago Daily News

WANTED: Watchmaker with reference who can furnish tools. State age, experience and salary required. ADDRESS T39, Daily News.

mr roebuckAn Indiana lad, Alvah C. Roebuck answered the ad. He told Sears he knew watches and brought a sample of his work to prove it. Sears hired him. Here began the association of two young men, both still in their twenties, that was to make their names famous. For it was in 1893 that the corporate name of the firm became Sears, Roebuck and Co.

By the time Sears was started, farmers in rural America were selling their crops for cash and buying what they needed from rural general stores. But when they laid their money on the line for goods, farmers saw red. In 1891 the wholesale price of a barrel of flour was reported to be $3.47. Price at retail was at least $7, a 100 percent increase. Farmers formed protest movements, such as the Grange, to do battle against high prices and the "middleman."

Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mail-order companies were the answer to farmers' prayers. Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, they offered a happy alternative to the high-priced rural stores. Years later the company adopted the motto "Shop at Sears and Save." Because farmers could do so in the 1890s, Sears prospered.

mail order business takes off
Richard Sears was the guiding genius of the new mail-order firm. He knew farmers, understood their needs and desires. Better yet, he could write advertising copy that made farmers send in their money and orders.

mr searsWhile the earliest catalogs featured only watches and jewelry, the new firm by 1895 was producing a 532-page catalog with many other items. This book offered shoes, women's garments and millinery, wagons, fishing tackle, stoves, furniture, china, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages and glassware, in addition to watches and jewelry.

Under Sears leadership, sales in 1893 topped $400,000. Two years later they exceeded $750,000.

Selling, advertising, merchandising - these were Richard Sears' talents, not organizing the company so it could handle orders on an economical and efficient basis. That was left to Chicago clothing manufacturer Julius Rosenwald, who bought into the company in 1895.

The company's reorganization resulted in Rosenwald becoming vice president. Sears retained the presidency. Suffering from ill health, Roebuck resigned, although the company still retained his name. In 1901 Rosenwald became treasurer as well as vice president. Five years later, needing additional capital, Sears and Rosenwald for the first time sold common and preferred stock on the open market. The company has been publicly owned ever since.





  Craftsman axes, chisels, files, handsaws, hack saws, hatchets, hammers, planes and tap and die sets appear in the "Hardware and Cutlery" section of the Sears catalog.    
Craftsman introduces a new tilting blade saw which is 9-inches and tilts 45 degrees.
The Craftsman name first appeared on lawn and
garden equipment with the introduction of the first Craftsman power mower.
Craftsman introduces new "Kromedge" blades that increase the cutting life and efficiency of tools by up to 5 times.    
Craftsman introduced the first ratchet wrench with a quick and easy push-button socket release. With gear/pawl design, it was a tremendous breakthrough in ratchet design that is commonplace today.
  Craftsman Introduced a buffer/polisher that simulates
hand polishing for cars, vans, boats and airplanes.
  Craftsman Professional screwdrivers debut with
high strength, tool-steel blades with grit blasted tips
to reduce chipping and tip failure and ergonomically
designed handles that generate up to 40% greater
torque than conventional screwdrivers.
Craftsman introduces a new plating process for its
wrenches, pliers, sockets and screwdrivers that is
environmentally friendly and 50% more rust resistant
than nickel chrome finished tools.

History & News - Historical Chronology

  historical chronology

1886 -- Richard Sears starts selling watches to supplement his income as station agent at North Redwood, Minn.
1887 -- Sears settles in the company's first Chicago location and hires a watchmaker named Alvah C. Roebuck.
1888 -- Date of the earliest catalog featuring only watches and jewelry.
1893 -- Corporate name becomes Sears, Roebuck and Co.
1896 -- First large general catalog.
1911 -- Sears establishes testing laboratory.
1916 -- Savings and Profit Sharing Fund of Sears Employees is established.
1925 -- First Sears retail store opens in catalog center on Chicago's west side.
1927 -- Sears launches the Craftsman� and Kenmore� brands.
1931 -- Allstate Insurance Co. established.
1945 -- Sears sales exceed $1 billion.
1953 -- Simpsons-Sears, Ltd. established in Canada.
1973 -- Sears moves its national headquarters to Sears Tower.
1981 -- Sears acquires Dean Witter Reynolds Organization and Coldwell, Banker & Company.
1985 -- Discover Card introduced nationally.
1986 -- Sears celebrates its 100th anniversary.
1993 -- Sears sells (IPO) 20 percent of Dean Witter shares to public, spins-off remaining shares to shareholders. New company called Dean Witter, Discover & Co.
1993 -- Sears sells 20 percent of Allstate to public.
1993 -- Sears sells Coldwell Banker Residential Services and Sears Mortgage Banking Group.
1993 -- Sears introduces popular "Come see the softer side of Sears" advertising campaign.
1995 -- Sears appoints Arthur C. Martinez as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer.
1996 -- Sears launches the KidVantage Program.
1997 -- Sears opens The Great Indoors stores.
1997 -- Sears makes Craftsman� tools available on-line.
1997 -- Sears becomes a founding sponsor of the Womens National Basketball Association.
1998 -- Sears launches
1999 -- Sears introduces "The Good Life at a Great Price" advertising campaign.
1999 -- Sears launches
2000 -- Sears appoints Alan Lacy as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer.
2001 -- Sears returns to downtown Chicago, opening a new flagship store on State Street.