Introduction and Early Growth

The Eaton's catalogue grew from the first 32-page booklet published in Toronto in 1884 to the "big book" of the 1920s, a 500-page institution in Canadian history, with regional catalogues and distribution centres in Western and Eastern Canada. In addition, a French-language edition was published. By 1976, when the catalogue closed, Simpson's Sears had long surpassed Eaton's in sales, but not in nostalgia.

Timothy Eaton's first catalogue, published in 1884, was a 32-page booklet distributed to out-of-town visitors at the exhibition in Toronto. Eaton expressed his vision for the catalogue in 1887: "This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion. We have the facilities for filling mail orders satisfactorily, no matter how far the letter has to come and the goods have to go."

Early Growth

From the 1890s, Eaton's factories in Central Canada and Winnipeg manufactured a range of goods: men's and women's clothing, jewellery, furniture, upholstered goods, window shades, harness, horse collars, suitcases and leather trunks.

Eaton's mail-order business grew quickly. Mail-order stock was separated from that of the store in its own building in 1903. Eaton's produced a number of giveaways, such as fans, fly swatters, shoehorns, celluloid bookmarks, and match safes, which promoted the image of the company.

Eaton's published a number of specialized catalogues for the Western market such as the Klondike Catalogue (1898) and the Settlers' Catalogue (1903). The Winnipeg edition was introduced in 1905. The growth rate in Winnipeg at the time was faster than in Toronto, and Winnipeg became the distribution centre for Western mail-order business.

After the death of founder Timothy Eaton in 1907, John C. Eaton became president. His wife was also a key figure in establishing the image of the Eaton's business and family. Eaton introduced the guarantee that goods must be satisfactory or money would be refunded, and the policy that postage be paid both ways. Sales were conducted on a cash-only basis. In 1909, the mail-order department was organized into separate departments and began to purchase its own stock.
by Catherine C. Cole

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

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