John Wanamaker

Infobox US Cabinet official
name=John Wanamaker

title=United States Postmaster General
term_start=March 5, 1889
term_end=March 4, 1893
predecessor=Donald M. Dickinson
successor=Wilson S. Bissell
birth_date=birth date|1838|7|11|mf=y
birth_place=Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
death_date=death date and age|1922|12|12|1838|7|11
death_place=Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
spouse=Mary Erringer Brown
profession=Politician, Merchant

John Nelson Wanamaker (July 11, 1838December 12, 1922) was a United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered the father of modern advertising. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


He opened his first store in 1861, called "Oak Hall", at Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, on the site of George Washington's Presidential home. Oak Hall grew substantially based on Wanamaker's then-revolutionary principle: "One price and goods returnable". In 1869, he opened his second store at 818 Chestnut Street and capitalizing on his own name (the untimely death of his brother-in-law), and growing reputation, renamed the company John Wanamaker & Co. In 1875 he purchased an abandoned railroad depot and converted it into a large store, called John Wanamaker & Co. "The Grand Depot". "Wanamaker's" is considered the first department store in Philadelphia.

In 1860 John Wanamaker married Mary Erringer Brown (1839–1920). They had six children (two of them died in childhood):
* Thomas Brown Wanamaker (1862–1908), married Mary Lowber Welch (1864–1929)
* Lewis Rodman Wanamaker (1863–1928), married Fern de Henry
* Horace Wanamaker (born 1864, died in infancy during the Civil War)
* Harriett E. Wanamaker (1865–1870)
* Mary "Minnie" Wanamaker (1871–1920) married Barclay Harding Warburton
* Elizabeth "Lillie" Wanamaker (1876–1927) married Norman McLeod

John Wanamaker's son Thomas B. Wanamaker, who specialized in store financial matters, purchased a Philadelphia newspaper called "North American" in 1899 and irritated his father by giving regular columns to radical intellectuals such as single-taxer Henry George, Jr., socialist Henry John Nelson (who later became Emma Goldman's lawyer), and socialist Caroline H. Pemberton. The younger Wanamaker also began publishing a Sunday edition, which offended his father's conservative religious views.

His younger son Rodman Wanamaker lived in France early in his career and is credited with creating a demand for French luxury goods that persists to this day. Rodman Wanamaker was responsible for the artistic emphasis that gave the Wanamaker stores their cachet and also was a patron of fine music, organizing spectacular organ and orchestra concerts in the Wanamaker Philadelphia and New York stores.


John Wanamaker opened his first New York store in New York City in 1896, continuing a mercantile business originally started by A. T. Stewart, and continued to expand his business abroad with the European Houses of Wanamaker in London and Paris.

A larger store in Philadelphia was then designed by famous Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, and the 12-story granite "Wanamaker Building" was completed in 1910 on the site of "The Grand Depot", encompassing an entire block at the corner of Thirteenth and Market Streets across from Philadelphia's City Hall. The new store, which still stands today, was dedicated by US President William Howard Taft, and houses a large pipe organ, the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, and the 2,500-pound bronze "Wanamaker Eagle" in the store's Grand Court, which became a famous meeting place for Philadelphians simply saying, "Meet me at the Eagle." The Wanamaker building and the Grand Court became a Philadelphia institution.

Wanamaker was an innovator, creative in his work, and a merchandising and advertising genius, though modest and with an enduring reputation for honesty. He gave his employees free medical care, education, recreational facilities, pensions and profit-sharing plans before such benefits were considered standard. Labor activists, however, knew him as a fierce opponent of unionization. During an 1887 organizing drive by the Knights of Labor, Wanamaker simply fired the first twelve union members who were discovered by his detectives. [Goldberg, Judith Lazarus. Strikes, Organizing, and Change: The Knights of Labor in Philadelphia 1869-1890 (PhD NY University 1985, pp. 342-3]

Post Office

In 1889 Wanamaker began the First Penny Savings Bank in order to encourage thrift. That same year he was appointed United States Postmaster General by President Benjamin Harrison. Wanamaker was credited by his friends with introducing the first commemorative stamp, and many efficiencies to the Postal Service. He was the first to make plans for free rural postal service in the United States, although the plan was not implemented until 1897. [ History of the United States Postal Service, 1775-1993, "Rural Free Delivery"]

In 1890, Wanamaker persuaded Congress to pass an act prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets through the mail, and then he aggressively pursued violaters [ "John Wanamaker: Philadelphia Merchant" by Herbert Ershkowitz. Da Capo Press, 1998, p.30 ISBN 1580970044] . These actions effectively ended all state lotteries in the U.S. until they reappeared in 1964.

However, Wanamaker's tenure at the Post Office was riddled with scandal, including the firing of some 30,000 postal workers during his four-year term, which caused severe confusion and inefficiency. In 1890 he commissioned a series of stamps that were derided in the national media as the poorest quality stamps ever issued, both for printing quality and materials. Then, when his department store ordered advance copies of the newly translated novel "The Kreutzer Sonata" by Leo Tolstoy, the deadline had been missed and only the regular discount was offered. Wanamaker retaliated by banning the book from the US Mail on grounds of obscenity. This earned him ridicule in many major U.S. newspapers. In 1891 he ordered changes in the uniforms of letter carriers, and was then accused of arranging for all the uniforms to be ordered from a single firm in Baltimore, to which Wanamaker was believed to have financial ties. ["John's Miserable Stamps" New York Times, August 10, 1890 p.14; "Wanamaker's Latest Crime" Boston Globe, August 1, 1890; Political Career of John Wanamaker" Justice (Wilmington, DE), February 19, 1898 p. 1; "A Little 'Job' in Clothes" New York Times, July 5, 1891 p. 2]

During World War I, Wanamaker publicly proposed that the United States buy Belgium from Germany for the sum of one-hundred billion dollars, as an alternative to the continuing carnage of the war. ["Repeats Suggestion That We Buy Belgium" New York Times, June 24, 1915 p. 4]

Later life

At his death in 1922, his estate was estimated to be $100 million (USD), divided equally between his three living children: son Rodman Wanamaker who was made sole inheritor of the store businesses (Rodman died in 1928 leaving the businesses with a documented worth of $35 million in a trust); and daughters Mary "Minnie" Wanamaker Warburton (Mrs. Barclay Warburton) and Elizabeth Wanamaker McLeod who both received substantial stocks, real estate, and cash instruments. Son Rodman Wanamaker is credited with founding the Professional Golfers' Association of America and the Millrose Games. Son Thomas B. Wanamaker died in 1908.

John Wanamaker owned homes in Philadelphia, Cape May Point, NJ, New York, Florida, London, Paris, and Biarritz. One was his townhouse at 2032 Walnut Street, which was modeled similar to an English manor house. His country estate was the Lindenhurst mansion [ [ Lindenhurst] ] in Cheltenham on York Road, below Washington Lane (coord|40.0853|N|75.1311|W). A neoclassic mansion was constructed when the original Victorian Lindenhurst burned in 1907, destroying much of Wanamaker's art collection. A railroad station, Chelten Hills (below Jenkintown), was constructed in addition to his vast mansion. [ [ Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County PA, Elkins Park, 19027 ] ] A family trust owned the Wanamaker's store chain, run by trustees appointed by Rodman Wanamaker's will, until 1978 when the business was sold to Carter Hawley Hale, Inc. (the 15-store was sold to Woodward & Lothrop in 1986; Woodies declared bankruptucy in the early 1990s, and with it the Wanamaker stores, which were sold to May Department Stores Company on June 21, 1995. In August 2006 the flagship Philadelphia store was converted to Macy's).

John Wanamaker was a Pennsylvania Mason. The John Wanamaker Masonic Humanitarian Medal was created by resolution of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania at the December Quarterly Communication of 1993. It is to be awarded to a person (male or female) who, being a non-Mason, supports the ideals and philosophy of the Masonic Fraternity. The recipient of this medal is one who personifies the high ideals of John Wanamaker - a public spirited citizen, a lover of all people, and devoted to doing good. The award is made at the discretion of the R. W. Grand Master. The medal has been presented sparingly, to maintain the great prestige associated with an award created by resolution of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge. In addition to the John Wanamaker Masonic Humanitarian Medal, The Pennsylvania Grand Lodge also awards the Franklin Medal for Distinguished Masonic Service, and the Thomson Award for Saving a Human Life.

Bronze busts honoring Wanamaker and seven other industry magnates stand between the Chicago River and the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, Illinois.

Until his death, Wanamaker had been the last surviving member of Benjamin Harrison's Cabinet.


* Popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to reach potential customers using traditional advertising is attributed to John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." [ [ The Quotations Page] ]
*From 1908 to 1914, Wanamaker financed Anna Jarvis's successful campaign to have a national Mother's Day holiday officially recognized.

ee also

* Wanamaker's Department Store
* Wanamaker Organ


Further reading

*Robert Sobel (1974). "John Wanamaker: The Triumph of Content Over Form", chapter 3 in "The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Business Tradition" (Weybright & Talley), ISBN 0-679-40064-8

External links

* [ John Wanamaker: A retailing innovator]
* [ Who Made America? (John Wanamaker, Innovator)]
*Find A Grave|id=1069

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