In 1866 Ward moved to Chicago and started working for Field, Palmer and Leiter, the forerunning of Marshall Field and Co. For several years, he travelled by train and horse buggy to rural merchants, listening to complaints from both owners and their customers on the hardships of receiving goods. He decided there had to be a better way of delivering merchandise to rural Americans. Though his idea was considered to be not only radical, but crazy and his first bit of inventory was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire (1871), he pushed on. With two fellow investors and $1,400, he started his mail-order business with 163 items available.
Both his partners sold out a few years later and his brother-in-law, George Thorne joined the company. With the help of members of the Patrons of Husbandry, the Midwestern farmers’ association, the business grew rapidly from the single sheet of paper advertising merchandise to a 152-page catalog with over 3,000 items in it by 1876.
In 1897 the catalog was 1,000 pages and annual sales were $7 million. By 1910, sales were $21 million and the company employed 7,000 people at their Chicago operations. In another 10 years, by 1920, sales exceeded $100 million in mail orders. A few years later the company opened its first retail store and did well during the Great Depression, with annual sales going from $200 million to $400 million. The company didn’t do as well during the last half of the 20th Century and in 1985, the company closed its 113-year-old catalog operation. In 2000 it announced the closing of its retail stores.
Throughout the years, Ward's catalog sold all manner of goods. Clothing, underwear, corsets, shoes, cellos, toilets, barbed wire, windmills, bells, bicycles, steam engines, butter molds, clocks and, even, birth control….though it wasn’t called that, of course….could be found between the catalog covers. When the new ‘wish book’ arrived, the old one more than likely was sent to the outhouse for additional usage.
With his novel idea, hard work and the slogan adopted in 1875, “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” Montgomery Ward proved to consumers and naysayers alike that reaching the far corners of rural America was good business.
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My question: How many pages was the very first Montgomery Ward Catalog and how many items did it feature? (information given in two different paragraphs)