John Wanamaker, U.S. Postmaster General

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John Nelson Wanamaker, II

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: December 12, 1922 (84)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Burial: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Nelson Wanamaker and Elizabeth Deshong Wanamaker
Husband of Mary Erringer Wanamaker
Father of Thomas Brown Wanamaker, Sr.; Rodman Wanamaker; Horace Wanamaker; Harriett E. Wanamaker; Mary "Minnie" Brown Warburton and 1 other

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About John Wanamaker, U.S. Postmaster General

John Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922) was a United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered by some to be a proponent of advertising and a "pioneer in marketing." He served as U.S. Postmaster General. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At the age of 23, John Wanamaker opened his first clothing store and went on to start his own line of retail shops, known as Wanamaker’s. He is considered the father of modern advertising and was also a United States Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893. He was also the first full time paid secretary for the YMCA from 1858 to 1861. In 1859, he founded the Bethany Sunday School in Philadelphia, which became the largest Sunday School in the country at the time. Wanamaker is well known for his famous words on advertising: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

He was born on July 11, 1838, in the Grays Ferry area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Nelson Wanamaker, a brick maker, and Elizabeth Deshong Kochersperger. Not much is known about Wanamaker’s early life except that in 1849, his grandfather, John Wanamaker, who was also in the brick making business, moved his family out to Leesburg, Indiana, to find more work and escape from competition from larger brick making companies. In 1850, Nelson Wanamaker followed his father and moved his own family out to Indiana, causing young John Wanamaker’s education in the Philadelphia school system to come to an end after three years.

Wanamaker’s family returned to Philadelphia in 1851 due to a lack of success in brick making in Indiana. His father continued his career as a brick maker, and John Wanamaker took a job at the Troutman and Hayes bookstore, earning $1.25 a week. A year later, Wanamaker left Troutman and Hayes and started a job at Barclay Lippincott’s Clothing Store, where he improved to making $2.50 a week. This is where he was first inspired to consider opening his own chain of retail stores one day. After working at Barclay Lippincott’s for a few years, Wanamaker took a job at Tower Hall, Philadelphia’s most prominent clothing store at the time. He was hired to complete very basic and unskilled tasks, but he soon worked his way up to a salesman position.

In 1857, Wanamaker faced several health problems that caused him to move to Minnesota for treatment. He returned to Philadelphia in 1858 and entered into his “second career,” the lay ministry. From 1858 to 1861, Wanamaker was the first full time paid secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He worked hard at this job and eventually earned a $1,000 annual salary, a lot of money for the time. YMCA membership grew from 57 to over 2,000 men in just one year. Wanamaker continued his pursuit of providing spiritual guidance for the people of Philadelphia by founding the Bethany Sunday School in 1859. The school was formed with only 27 students who met in a rented room, but it later became the largest Sunday School in the country.

In 1860, Wanamaker married Mary Erringer Brown in Philadelphia. They had six children. In 1861, he resigned as secretary of the YMCA due to his new responsibilities as a husband and father. After a period of time solely concentrating on his family and doing some thinking about his life, Wanamaker reentered the retail business. On April 8, 1861, he opened his first store, “Oak Hall,” a men’s and boy’s clothing shop. His business partner for this particular venture was his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown. The store had a dismal first day, only earning $24.67, and it had a slow start due to the coinciding start of the Civil War. However, because of Wanamaker’s attention to customer service, the store soon flourished. Although many merchants at the time scoffed at the idea of a “sale,” Wanamaker wanted the customer to get the most out of their experience at his stores so they would come back. Oak Hall ran special sales for their customers and was even able to gain government contracts for manufacturing military clothing.

In 1868, Wanamaker opened a second store on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, following the death of his long time business partner, Nathan Brown. Wanamaker called his new store “John Wanamaker and Co.” After the store opened, Wanamaker published the first copyrighted advertisement by a retailer. In November 1875, due to the success of his new business, he then boldly bought the former Pennsylvania Railroad depot at 13th and Market Streets in Philadelphia to open another store. The store was called the “Grand Depot,” and it had its grand opening on May 6, 1876. Wanamaker began selling women’s items and dry goods as well. Wanamaker was slowly developing his stores into modern day department stores, where one stop shopping could be done.

Wanamaker increased his success by becoming the first merchant in the country to use full-page newspaper advertisements, which he began doing in 1879. He also hired ad-covered horse-drawn carriages and sign-carrying pedestrians known as “sandwich men” to walk around the city of Philadelphia and promote his stores. Wanamaker is also credited with several more “firsts” among department stores including: the use and creation of the first restaurant in a general store, the first store to send buyers overseas for a foreign market study in 1876, the first use of electric lighting in a store, and the first “white sale” in 1878, with special prices on linens and other white products. Wanamaker also spent money on his businesses by making his stores available to host free public choral concerts, displays of artwork, and children’s Christmas drawing contests. Wanamaker’s customers and employees received unparalleled service and attention. In 1878, Wanamaker began to offer various classroom instruction opportunities for his employees. The founding of the John Wanamaker Commercial Institute on March 23, 1896, was the culmination of Wanamaker’s dreams for a place where his employees could obtain an education in subjects like bookkeeping, finance, English and arithmetic.

In 1899, Wanamaker continued to increase his business empire with the creation of Camp Wanamaker in Island Heights, New Jersey. The 13 acre camp provided a two week summer vacation on the New Jersey shore for the children of Wanamaker’s employees. Both boys and girls could gain instruction in musical instruments and military training. Wanamaker also created an Insurance Association in 1881, a hotel called Hotel Walton (a place for his female employees to stay) in 1887, a library in 1897, and a business school in 1908, also known as the American University of Trade and Applied Commerce.

Wanamaker tried his hands at politics in the form of public office. On March 5, 1989, Wanamaker was rewarded for his long time party loyalty and for his contribution of $10,000 to Benjamin Harrison’s 1888 Presidential campaign, by being named the U.S. Postmaster General. While many people believed Wanamaker had purchased the position, others worried about his lack of formal education and political experience. Wanamaker attempted some major reforms within the postal system. Wanamaker achieved reforms in extending mail service to every American family, including families living in rural areas, by formally implementing a rural delivery system in 1896. Wanamaker also established the first ever parcel-post system, which was started on January 1, 1913, in Philadelphia. It allowed packages to be mailed from one location to another.

Wanamaker business also established a postal savings system that was approved by the government in 1910. The program allowed Americans to have a safe place to keep their life savings, which could be kept in their neighborhood post office. The program remained in effect until 1963. Also during Wanamaker’s tenure in office, the first commemorative stamps were issued, and more than 5,000 new mail routes were established. The National Postal History and Philatelic Museum that was created in 1894 was also one of Wanamaker’s visions. Wanamaker also started the practice of sorting mail on the moving railway cars when the cargo was transported from one location to another.

After Wanamaker left the position of U.S. Postmaster General in 1893, he continued an old feud with the leader of Pennsylvania Republican party, Senator Matthew Quay. Quay backed Wanamaker’s opponent for a nomination in the U.S. senate in 1896. However, the battle was short lived, as Wanamaker’s campaign manager, Edwin A. Van Valkenburg, was indicted for vote-buying before the election. Although he was later acquitted, the nomination went to Boies Penrose, Wanamaker’s opponent. Wanamaker was not entirely discouraged by this defeat and ran to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1898. He lost this nomination to William A. Stone. He managed to stir up so much public disgust against Matthew Quay that Quay actually lost his seat in the Senate in 1899.

Much of Wanamaker’s success was due to the fact that he was able to pass down his authority within his business empire to other very able and diligent men. Wanamaker turned over control of his first store on Chestnut Street early in his life to his brothers. In 1879, he gave a valued employee, Robert C. Ogden, control of Oak Hall. Wanamaker’s two sons, Thomas and Rodman, began their duties in the family business after their respective graduations from Princeton University. The Wanamaker firm acquired the former Alexander T. Stewart store in New York City in 1896. Although the Wanamaker family ultimately dealt with the coinciding retirement of Robert Ogden, the death of Thomas Wanamaker, and the financial panic of 1908, the store was able to persevere throughout the hardships. Rodman Wanamaker was named manager of the now successful store in 1911.

Throughout his life, Wanamaker was a devout Presbyterian, and he worked with the Bethany Sunday School for many years, even during his busiest moments as a department store entrepreneur. Wanamaker founded several Presbyterian churches as well, including the Bethany Memorial (today called Bethany Collegiate) Church in 1865, the John Chambers Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1897, and the Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in 1906. He also maintained ties with the YMCA during his business career and contributed to the development of YMCA buildings all over the world. One of Wanamaker’s greatest achievements personally was known as the Bethany Brotherhood. It was a men’s organization founded in 1890, and it provided religious instruction and fellowship to area worshipers of the Presbyterian faith.

John Wanamaker died in his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 12, 1922. He is commemorated by a statue in front of Philadelphia’s city hall and remembered as an innovative entrepreneur, merchant, and spiritual figure who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful retail chain owners of his time. He is known as the father of modern advertising. His stores continue in operation today under the ownership of Woodward and Lothrop. Hiis contributions to the founding of the modern department store, as well as new innovations with the U.S. Postal System will never be forgotten.

Source: PA Book

John Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922) was a United States merchant, religious leader, civic and political figure, considered by some to be a proponent of advertising and a "pioneer in marketing."[1] He served as U.S. Postmaster General. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Wanamaker was born on July 11, 1838, in a then-rural, unincorporated area that would in time come to be known as the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia.[2] His parents were John Nelson Wanamaker, a brickmaker and a native of Kingwood, New Jersey, and Elizabeth Deshong Kochersperger, daughter of a farmer and innkeeper at Gray's Ferry in Philadelphia whose ancestors had hailed from Rittershoffen in Alsace, France and from Canton Bern in Switzerland.[3]

Wanamaker's "Grand Depot" at 13th & Market Sts. He opened his first store in 1861, in partnership with his brother in-law Nathan Brown, called "Oak Hall", at Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, adjacent to 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 (due 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).[4] 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 Fernanda de Henry Horace Wanamaker (born 1864, died in infancy during the Civil War) Harriett E. "Nettie" Wanamaker (1865–1870) Mary Brown "Minnie" Wanamaker (1869–1954) married Barclay Harding Warburton I. Later became mother to Barclay Harding Warburton II.[5] 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 The 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 Biblically informed religious views.

His younger son Rodman Wanamaker, a Princeton graduate, 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 credited with 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 under music director Alexander Russell.

Merchant[edit] John Wanamaker opened his first New York store in New York City in 1896, continuing a mercantile business originally started by Alexander Turney 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 this 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. "Meet me at the Eagle" is a Philadelphia byword.[citation needed] The Wanamaker Building with its Grand Court became Philadelphia institutions.[citation needed]

Wanamaker was an innovator, creative in his work, a merchandising genius, and proponent of the power of advertising, though modest and with an enduring reputation for honesty.[citation needed] Although he did not invent the fixed price system, he popularized it into what became the industry standard, and did create the money-back guarantee that is now standard business practice. He gave his employees free medical care, education, recreational facilities, pensions and profit-sharing plans before such benefits were considered standard.[citation needed] Labor activists, however, knew him as a fierce opponent of unionization.[citation needed] During an 1887 organizing drive by the Knights of Labor, Wanamaker simply fired the first twelve union members who were discovered by his detectives.[6] The stores did make noted early efforts to advance the welfare of African-Americans and Native Americans.[citation needed] Wanamaker was the first retailer to place a half-page newspaper ad (1874) and the first full-page ad (1879).[7] He initially wrote his own ad copy, but later hired the world's first full-time copywriter John Emory Powers. During Powers's tenure, the Wanamaker's revenues doubled from $4 million to $8 million.[8]

Post Office[edit] 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.[9]

In 1890, Wanamaker persuaded Congress to pass an act prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets through the mail, and then he aggressively pursued violators.[10] These actions effectively ended all state lotteries in the U.S. until they reappeared in 1964, partly as an effort to undermine organized crime.

However, Wanamaker's tenure at the Post Office was riddled with controversy, including the firing of some 30,000 postal workers under the then common "spoils system" during his four-year term, which caused severe confusion, inefficiency and a run-in with civil-service crusader Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow Republican. 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.[11] In 1893 he made a public prediction at the Chicago World's Fair that U.S. mail would still rely on stagecoach and horseback delivery for a century to come, failing to anticipate the impact caused by the coming of the automobile.[12]

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.[13]

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John Wanamaker, U.S. Postmaster General's Timeline

July 11, 1838
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
March 27, 1861
Age 22
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
February 13, 1863
Age 24
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 25
Age 26
Age 33
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 37
December 12, 1922
Age 84
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States