John Wanamaker

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John Wanamaker
John Wanamaker.jpg
35th United States Postmaster General; Merchant
In office
March 5, 1889 – March 4, 1893
Preceded by Donald M. Dickinson
Succeeded by Wilson S. Bissell
Personal details
Born (1838-07-11)July 11, 1838
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died December 12, 1922(1922-12-12) (aged 84)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Erringer Brown
Children Thomas Brown Wanamaker
Lewis Rodman Wanamaker
Horace Wanamaker
Harriett E. Wanamaker
Mary Wanamaker
Elizabeth Wanamaker
Profession Politician, Merchant

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):

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.


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, Wanamaker is credited for the creation of the price tag;[6] 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.[7] 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).[8] 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.[9]

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; he was accused by the newspapers of the day of buying the post.[10] 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.[11]

In 1890, Wanamaker persuaded Congress to pass an act prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets through the mail, and then he aggressively pursued violators.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]


The Wanamaker family tomb in Philadelphia, PA

He died on December 12, 1922.[16] His funeral was on December 14, 1922 with a service at the Bethany Presbyterian Church.[17] He was interred in the Wanamaker family tomb in the churchyard of the Church of St. James the Less in Philadelphia.

At his death his estate was estimated to be $100 million (USD), ($1,413,717,694 today) divided equally among his three living children: second 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 [$494,801,193 today] in a trust); and granddaughters Mary "Minnie" Wanamaker Warburton (Mrs. Barclay Warburton) Patricia "Paddy" W. Estelle and Elizabeth Wanamaker McLeod who all 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. First son Thomas B. Wanamaker died in Paris in 1908.[18]


John Wanamaker owned homes in Philadelphia, Cape May Point, New Jersey, Bay Head, New Jersey, New York, Florida, London, Paris, and Biarritz. One was his townhouse at 2032 Walnut Street, which was modeled similar to an English manor house and kept a Welte Philharmonic Organ.[19] Wanamaker died in this residence. The facade of this building is still extant. Thomas Edison, a close friend, was a pallbearer at his funeral. His country estate was the Lindenhurst mansion[20] in Cheltenham, which stood on York Road, below Washington Lane (Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.). The original mansion was designed by architect E. A. Sargent of New York; President Harrison visited there.[21] 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 (located below Jenkintown, and no longer in existence), was constructed in addition to his vast mansion.[22] A family trust owned the Wanamaker's store chain, run by a trustee system set up by Rodman Wanamaker's will, until 1978 when the business was sold to Carter Hawley Hale, Inc. (the 15-store chain was sold to Woodward & Lothrop in 1986; Woodies declared bankruptcy in the early 1990s, and with it went the Wanamaker stores, which were sold to May Department Stores Company on June 21, 1995. In August 2006 the flagship Philadelphia store was converted from a Lord & Taylor to a Macy's).

John Wanamaker was known for his philanthropy in regards to the poor in Philadelphia. He co-founded Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, in 1878.[23] Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission has since expanded to provide more services and is still in use for the homeless population of Philadelphia.[24]

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.


  • A popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to qualify the response to advertising is attributed to John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."[25][better source needed]
  • From 1908 to 1914, Wanamaker financed Anna Jarvis's successful campaign to have a national Mother's Day holiday officially recognized.
  • Wanamaker's fame was considerable around the world in his heyday. In the original play Pygmalion (1912) by George Bernard Shaw Alfred Doolittle is left a legacy by an American philanthropist millionaire named "Ezra Wanafeller", combining Wanamaker's name with John D. Rockefeller Sr.

See also


  1. Tucker, Jeffrey (2011-04-01) What's a Job Good For?, Mises Institute
  2. Maxin, Halley C. "Wanamaker, John". Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania. Retrieved December 3, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Contemporary American Biography: Biographical Sketches of Representative Men of the Day : Representatives of Modern Thought and Progress, of the Pulpit, the Press, the Bench and Bar, of Legislation, Invention and the Great Industrial Interests of the Country, Volume 1, Part 2. Atlantic Publishing and Engraving Company. 1895.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Mrs. J. Wanamaker Dies In 81st Year; Merchant's Wife Succumbs to Pneumonia at Atlantic City After Long Illness. Children at Her Bedside. Sister of Husband's First Partner Lived a Retired Life, with Interests Centred in Home and Family". New York Times. August 21, 1920. Retrieved 2011-05-27. Mrs. Mary Brown Wanamaker, wife of John Wanamaker, the dry goods merchant of New York and Philadelphia, died in her suite in the Hotel Ambassador shortly before noon today of pleuropneumonia. With Mrs. Wanamaker at her bedside when the end came were her three children, Special Deputy Police ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Special to The New York Times. (1954-11-18). "' Mrs. Barclay H. Warburfon Is Dead at 85 - A Leader in Welfare Worh and Polifics - Obituary -". Retrieved 2014-05-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Goldberg, Judith Lazarus. Strikes, Organizing, and Change: The Knights of Labor in Philadelphia 1869-1890 (PhD NY University 1985), pp. 342-3
  8. Joel Shrock (30 June 2004). The Gilded Age. ABC-CLIO. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-313-06221-6. Retrieved 24 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Stephen R. Fox (1984). The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising & Its Creators. University of Illinois Press. pp. 25–28. ISBN 978-0-252-06659-7. Retrieved 23 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 1964 RED:The Changing Face of Rural America by Wayne E. Fuller pg. 20
  11. History of the United States Postal Service, 1775-1993, "Rural Free Delivery"
  12. "John Wanamaker: Philadelphia Merchant" by Herbert Ershkowitz. Da Capo Press, 1998, p.30 ISBN 1-58097-004-4
  13. "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
  14. Kaku, Michio (2011). Physics of the Future. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-53080-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Repeats Suggestion That We Buy Belgium" New York Times, June 24, 1915 p. 4
  16. "Death Overtakes John Wanamaker. Had Suffered From A Heavy Cold". New York Times. December 12, 1922. Retrieved 2011-05-27. The world famous merchant and former postmaster general passed away at his town house., 2023 Walnut street. He had been confined there since early in ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Wanamaker Buried With High Tributes. Mayors Hylan And Moore And Other Officials Attend Philadelphia Services. Thousands At The Church. Honors Paid As Cortege Passes. Stores And Schools Suspend. Flowers From Employees". New York Times. December 15, 1922. Retrieved 2010-05-12. John Wanamaker was buried this afternoon after services in Bethany Presbyterian Church, Twenty-second and Bainbridge Streets, attended by a throng of prominent men and women whose presence showed the honor in which he was held as a merchant, philanthropist and citizen.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Thomas b. wanamaker dead". New York Times. New York Times Co. 1908-03-03. Retrieved 2010-08-21. Son of ex-Postmaster General passes away in Paris hotel<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Liste der Philharmonie-Orgeln von M. Welte & Söhne und M. Welte & Sons
  20. Lindenhurst
  21. Anonymous. AT THE OLD LOG COLLEGE; THE CRADLE OF PRESBYTERIANISM IN AMERICA. New York Times, September 6, 1889, page1. [1]
  22. Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County PA, Elkins Park, 19027
  23. Cnaan, Ram A.; Wineburg, Robert J.; Boddie, Stephanie C. (1999). The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership (First ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-231-11624-4. Retrieved 4 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Sunday Breakfast". Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Retrieved 4 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. The Quotations Page

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
  • Olive W. Burt (1952). "John Wanamaker: Boy Merchant," Childhood Of Famous Americans Series, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. (children's biography)

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Donald M. Dickinson
United States Postmaster General
Served under: Benjamin Harrison

1889 – 1893
Succeeded by
Wilson S. Bissell