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Montgomery Ward & Company
Montgomery Ward & Company
TitleMontgomery Ward & Company
DescriptionPostcard of the Montgomery Ward & Company building at St. John and Belmont
Historical ArticleBefore the Civil War young Aaron Montgomery Ward worked as a salesman in a general country store near St. Joseph, Mich., for a salary of $6 a month, plus board and room. Farmers bought on credit at the store and paid when they sold their crops.

After the war and the beginning of business recovery Ward crossed Lake Michigan on a steamer to find a better job in Chicago. He joined Field, Palmer and Leiter (Marshall Field, Potter Palmer and Levi Z. Leiter) as a clerk.

It was the time he spent as a traveling salesman for Walter M. Smith & Co., St. Louis, that most influenced Ward's thinking. During his tedious round of train trips, hiring rigs at the local livery stables, driving out to crossroad stores and listening to the complaints of the back country proprietors and their rural customers he conceived the idea of selling directly to the farmer by mail.

A new fraternal organization of farmers called the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was rapidly gaining strength with memberships chiefly in rural Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri--quite a market for a man with a new merchandising idea.

By August, 1872, Ward was ready to try out his idea. He and two fellow workers raised a total capital of $1,600. With this they rented a small room in Chicago on Clark Street and had a 1-page price list printed. It was sent to Grange members.

The items were mostly priced at $1, such as 12 yds. Best quality prints. Other dollar items were red flannel, Kentucky jeans, hoop skirts, bustles, paper collars, cotton hose, boys' winter caps, shawls, hemstitched handkerchiefs, lace curtains, oil cloth table covers and one Ostrich plume and 3 bunches fine French flowers.

Mrs. Ward helped her husband address his mailings and they waited for orders to come in. (Ward held on to his regular job during this time).

Late in the year his two partners, who feared losing their money, asked to withdraw. Ward bought them out.

At first orders were filled from wholesale companies, but eventually Ward had his own warehouse and a more varied and larger list of items.

The 1875 catalogue contained 3,899 items and has wood cuts picturing some items. As the firm continued to grow catalogues included a picture of the shipping room proudly titled: Bill clerks, examiner, sorters, and packers filling orders.

Storage space was a constant problem and warehouses in various areas were used, including a cellar on Madison Avenue for hardware, glassware and crockery. Farm implements were stored in a warehouse in Sycamore, Ill.

Ward came to Kansas City to acquire additional warehouse space to serve the larger trade in the West and to relieve congestion in Chicago.

In 1904 a building beside the railroad tracks at 15th and Liberty in the stockyards area was acquired. A sign painted across the top designated it as Warehouse No. 12. It was soon stocked with carload lots of furniture, implements, sewing machines and stoves.

Three years later a 20-acre tract was bought and a plant erected at St. John and Belmont to handle the mail-order operation. In 1928 a retail store was opened. Most of the customers arrived by streetcar, alighting at the turn-around in front of the building.

At the time of Ward's death in Highland Park, Ill., at the age of 70, the Chicago Tribune, not always his supporter during more than two decades of litigation over preservation of the lakefront opposite the downtown district, said when it began his obituary: Grant Park is Montgomery Ward's monument. Through the years Ward had waged a crusade in and out of courts to keep the lakefront an open area.

Kansas City Times
June 24, 1972

AuthorRay, Mrs. Sam (Mildred)
Item TypePostcard
CollectionMrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection (SC58)
See finding aid: http://localhistory.kclibrary.org/u?/Local,36981
Local SubjectMontgomery Ward Building
Digital FormatJPEG
RepositoryMissouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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