Industrialization made mass production and distribution possible. In the late 19th century, large department stores introduced mail-order operations to extend their markets beyond the stores themselves into smaller cities and rural areas. The French and the Americans were leaders in this field.

1871

Au Bon Marché, a Paris department store since 1852, introduces its mail-order service. There are two divisions, one for France, the other for foreign countries, and mail orders are delivered throughout Europe and Africa. One-and-a-half million catalogues are distributed in 1894 alone.

1872

Montgomery Ward, a Chicago retailer, produces the first American catalogue, a price list sent to members of the Grange, a farmer's movement in nearby states. The company, based in a city with excellent rail connections, becomes the giant of the mail-order business in the United States.

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Industrialization made mass production and distribution possible. In the late 19th century, large department stores introduced mail-order operations to extend their markets beyond the stores themselves into smaller cities and rural areas. The French and the Americans were leaders in this field.

1871

Au Bon Marché, a Paris department store since 1852, introduces its mail-order service. There are two divisions, one for France, the other for foreign countries, and mail orders are delivered throughout Europe and Africa. One-and-a-half million catalogues are distributed in 1894 alone.

1872

Montgomery Ward, a Chicago retailer, produces the first American catalogue, a price list sent to members of the Grange, a farmer's movement in nearby states. The company, based in a city with excellent rail connections, becomes the giant of the mail-order business in the United States.

1874

Rowland Macy establishes a special mail-order department in his New York City store on 14th Street West. From 1879 to its closure in 1912, Macy's produces seasonal catalogues twice a year. The catalogue is 300 pages long by the early 1890s.

1876

John Wanamaker of Philadelphia introduces a mail-order service. By the early 1880s the firm receives more than 1000 letters a day. Wanamaker is among the first to hire commercial artists to decorate his catalogues and advertising literature.

1886

Richard Sears issues a modest catalogue for selling watches. The catalogue grows to 110 pages in 1892, 786 pages in 1897. Unlike most companies, Sears starts in mail order and later branches into retailing. By 1888, Canadians are purchasing so many goods through Sears that the company opens an office in Toronto.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white engraving of Au Bon Marché

Engraving of Au Bon Marché department store from Agenda buvard, 1901

Josette Dupuis-Leman Collection

© Josette Dupuis-Leman Collection


Colour Montgomery Ward Fall/Winter Catalogue cover page

Montgomery Ward Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1903–04, cover

Ronald Chabot Collection, Lévis

© Ronald Chabot Collection, Lévis


Colour drawing of Sears Roebuck headquarters

Sears Roebuck & Co. Fall Catalogue, 1908, back cover, showing the 40-acre [16-hectare] headquarters in Chicago.

Sears USA Archives, Chantilly, Virginia

© Sears USA Archives, Chantilly, Virginia


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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