Part 1: August 18th is National Mail Order Catalog Day
August 18th is National Mail Order Catalog Day!
What? Yes, it’s a day dedicated to catalogers everywhere. Seriously. Not kidding.
As a catalog consultant, I often tell clients that cataloging is in my blood. Part of my DNA. I recall my first real job after I graduated from college: Macauley’s Office Supply in Detroit, Michigan. As the marketing manager, my role was vast but I loved working on the monthly mail order sale flyer. Back then it was paste-up (cutting and pasting line-art images, photos, and the copy blocks.) The thing I remember most was the fascination I had that companies would buy products sight unseen. And postal requirements (the mail panel size, elements required, postal indicia) all made sense to me. The monthly flyer was anticipated because it introduced new products (ohhhh the facsimile machine!) and showcased sale products (the L-Shaped Desk with a locking file drawer!) The phones would ring, sales would climb, everyone is happy. And years, a-hem, decades later, I still love all of this. Cataloging is fabulous.
So why August 18th for National Mail Order Catalog Day? I was doing some research on our beloved industry and couldn’t believe my eyes. We had a national holiday. All Ours. Catalogs.
Way back in 1872 on August 18th the first catalog was launched. By whom you ask? Aaron Montgomery Ward. He is generally accepted as the pioneer of the catalog industry. His humble catalog beginnings in 1872: a capital investment of $2,400 featuring 150 or so items on a sell sheet. Catalog followed, as did a money back guarantee. It was just 16 years after launching the catalog when the company recorded $1 million in revenue. $40 million by 1914.
Other interesting facts, who’d a thunk, in 1909 Montgomery Ward sold pre-cut houses. 12,000-piece kit houses that you could order through the catalog. These were called Wardway Homes.
Over the years, I’ve read about Aaron Montgomery Ward. One thing that I always appreciated is his role to ensure the Chicago lakefront was accessible to the public. Anytime I see the iconic views of the Chicago skyline and lakefront, I smile because one man took his conviction to the Illinois Supreme Court and made it happen.
The catalog ended in 1985. It was good run. 113 years.
Dean of Marketing, CatalogUniversity.com
Article references from online readings: britannica.com, wardwayhomes.com