Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on February 17 1844 in Chatham New
"Has been a lifesaver so many times!"
- Catherine Rampell, student @ University of Washington
"Exactly the help I needed."
- Jennifer Hawes, student @ San Jose State
"The best place for brainstorming ideas."
- Michael Majchrowicz, student @ University of Kentucky
Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on February 17, 1844, in Chatham, New
Jersey, to a family whose ancestors had served as officers in the French and
Indian Wars as well as in the American Revolution. He was named after
General G. Aaron Montgomery Ward, a general in George Wahington's
Army. When Aaron was nine, his father, Sylvester Ward, moved the family to
Aaron's schooling ended when he was 14. According to his brief
memoirs, he first earned money in a barrel Stave factory, "doing a man's work
at the cutting machine at $.25 per day, then stacking brick in a kiln at $.30
day." Looking for something more compatible, Aaron left home and followed
the river to Lake Michigan and the town of St. Joseph. Within nine months
Aaron had engaged as a salesman in a general country store at the princely
salary of $6 per month and a place to live. Aaron rose to become head clerk
and general manager and remained at this store for three years before
accepting a better job in a competing store, where he worked another two
years. In this period, Aaron Montgomery Ward learned the mechanics and
customs of retailing.
Aaron the moved to Chicago, which was the center of the wholesale
dry goods trade. The Chicago City Directories for 1868 through 1870 listed
him as a salesman for Wills, Greg & Co. and later for Stetthauers &
Wineman, both dry goods houses.
Aaron Montgomery Ward felt that a way of doing business must be
found that would bring relief from the traditional systems. The plan that
shaped in Aaron's mind was to buy goods at low cost for cash, eliminate
retailers, and cut selling costs to the bone, he could offer goods to people, at
appealing prices - for cash. He would invite them to send their orders by mail
and deliver the purchases to their nearest railroad station. The only thing
Aaron lacked was capital.
None of Aaron's friends or business acquaintances joined in his
enthusiasm for his revolutionary idea, including one of his closest friends,
George R. Thorne, a local grocer whom he had known in Michigan. Aaron
stubbornly stuck to his purpose and saved all he could from his earnings as a
salesman at Pardridge.
By 1871, Aaron had saved enough money to acquire some merchandise
and print a single-page price list, which he intended to mail out to members of
a association of farmers known as the National Grange of the Patrons of
Husbandry. These Grangers, as they were called, were very active in seeking
legislation to establish fair business practices, and Aaron felt they would be
interested in his business concept.
Aaron was just about to make his first mailing and disaster struck. The
great Chicago fire in the fall of 1871 sent his dreams literally up in smoke. In
1872, Aaron talked two fellow partridge employees into joining him - George
S. Drake and Robert P. Caufield. With a total capital of $1,600, they rented a
small shipping room on North Clark Street and published their first price list -
the world's first general merchandise mail order catalog.
The following year, Aaron partners', Drake and Caulfield, grew
discouraged; Aaron bought out their interests and continued alone. A second
misfortune happened to Aaron. Thorne's partner in the lumber business,
which was very successful, stole all the company funds and left town,
bankrupting Thorne except for $500, his home and a family that now included
five sons. Thorne decided to put the $500 into Aaron's business and joined
him as an equal partner.
This was the turning point for the young company, which grew and
prospered. Soon the catalog, frequently sent out and even burned publicly by
rural retailers who had been cheating the farmers for so many years, became
known fondly as the "Wish Book" and was a favorite in households all across
The Montgomery Ward catalog's place in history was assured when the
Grolier Club, a high respected club of book readers in New York, exhibited it
in 1946 alongside Webster's Dictionary as one of 100 American books
chosen for their influence on life and culture of the people.
Aaron Montgomery Ward died, of pulmonary edema, on December 8,
1913, at the age of 69. He had an adopted daughter, Marjorie (later Marjorie
Ward Baker), who herself had no children, but there were no other heirs to
the Montgomery Ward legacy. A large portion of the estate was given by
Mrs. Ward to Northwestern University and other educational institutions.
George R. Thorne, his lifelong friend, business partner and brother-in-
law, passed away in 1918. Thorne's five sons all
View Full Essay
Montgomery Ward, Aaron Montgomery Ward, Mail order, Aarons, Inc., Department store, Montgomery, Aaron
More Free Essays Like This