Marshall Field

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Marshall Field
Portrait of Marshall Field.jpg
Born (1835-08-18)August 18, 1835
Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts
Died January 16, 1906(1906-01-16) (aged 71)
New York City, New York County, New York
Occupation Founder of Marshall Field and Company
Spouse(s) Nannie Douglas Scott, Delia Spencer
Children Louis Field, Marshall Field Jr., Ethel Field
Parent(s) John Field IV and Fidelia Nash

Marshall Field (August 18, 1834 – January 16, 1906) was an American entrepreneur and the founder of Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago-based department stores. His business was renowned for its then-exceptional level of quality and customer service. Field is also known for some of his philanthropic donations, providing funding for the Field Museum of Natural History and donating land for the campus of the University of Chicago.

Early life

Marshall Field was born on a farm in Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts,[1] the son of John Field IV and wife Fidelia Nash. His family was descended from Puritans who had come to America as early as 1650.

At the age of 17, he moved to Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he first worked in a dry goods store.[2] He left Massachusetts at the age of 18 for new opportunities in the rapidly expanding West. In 1856, at age 21, he went to live with his brother in Chicago, Illinois, and obtained employment at leading dry goods merchant Cooley, Wadsworth & Co., which was to become Cooley, Farwell & Co. in 1857.


Field quickly rose through the ranks of Cooley, Farwell & Co. to become junior partner in 1862. Due to Cooley's having to leave the firm for financial reasons, Field was persuaded to come onboard as a partner in the same year.[3] John V. Farwell appreciated Field’s keen business acumen, however, when it came to personality, the two were very different. Field’s stuffy efficiency rode on Farwell’s more relaxed and cheery demeanor.[4] At a time of much more personal interactions, this partnership wouldn’t last long. In 1862, Field purchased a partnership with the reorganized firm of Farwell, Field & Co.

In January 1865, Field and a partner, Levi Leiter, accepted an offer to become senior partners at the dry goods establishment of Potter Palmer. The new firm became known as "Field, Palmer, Leiter & Co." In 1867, after Field and Leiter could afford to buy him out, Palmer withdrew from the firm, and it was renamed "Field, Leiter & Company." In 1867 Field, Leiter & Company reported revenues of $12 million.[5] Like many Chicago businessmen, Field's company was badly affected by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but reopened relatively quickly. The company also survived the Panic of 1873 because of their relatively low levels of debt. By 1881 Field had forced Leiter to sell his share of the business, and changed the store's name to "Marshall Field and Company".

Field took an early 19th-century consumer landscape that was centered around the principle of caveat emptor, or "buyer beware", and transformed it into a plush shopping experience fit for the Gilded Age. Unconditional refunds, consistent pricing and international imports are among the Field innovations that became standards in quality retailing. Field's employees were also instructed not to push products on uninterested customers as was common practice in stores of the period. The quotes "Give the lady what she wants" and "The customer is always right" are attributed to Field, though the latter may also be an invention of Harry Gordon Selfridge while employed by Field,[6] however the original saying actually goes, "Assume that the customer is right until it is plain beyond all question he is not."[7]

Though most famous today for his retail business, during his lifetime his wholesale business made far more money. During the 1880s, Field's wholesale business generated 5 times more revenue than retail annually.[8] The wholesale business even had its own landmark building, the Marshall Field's Wholesale Store, erected in 1887. Revenue from the Marshall Field's retail business did not surpass the company's wholesale business until after Field's death.

Field was highly suspicious of organized labor throughout his career, and prohibited unionization among his employees. During the time of the Haymarket Riot, the wives of the defendants initiated an appeal, to which all of the local businessmen agreed except for Field. Journalist and reformer Henry Demarest Lloyd led a national campaign to grant clemency. Even bankers like Lyman J. Gage favored clemency, believing that moderation would lead to improved relations between capital and labor. Potter Palmer and Charles Hutchinson were inclined to agree, but Marshall Field was not. A number of other men confided to Gage that they were not willing to publicly disagree with Field, the wealthiest and most powerful businessman in Chicago.[9] Field would also oppose organized labor during the Teamster's Strike in 1905.

Personal life

Field avoided political and social intrigue, instead focusing on his work and on supporting his family and his favorite philanthropies. Field was a very active member of The Commercial Club of Chicago and the Jekyll Island Club aka The Millionaires Club on Jekyll Island, Georgia. He married Nannie Douglas Scott of Ironton, Ohio [10] in 1863 and raised two adult children, Marshall Field, Jr., and Ethel Field. Son Louis died in 1866 as an infant. After Scott died in 1896, Field married longtime friend Delia Spencer, widow Caton. His son Marshall Jr. (1868-1905) married Albertine Huck, and they were the parents of Gwendolyn Mary Field, who married Sir Archibald Charles Edmonstone, 6th Baronet. His daughter Ethel was married to Arthur Magie Tree with whom she had one son, Ronald Tree, and then in 1901 to David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty with whom she had two sons, David and Peter.


Field died in New York City, New York, on January 16, 1906 at age 71 from a case of pneumonia contracted after playing golf on New Year's Day with his nephew, his secretary and Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Todd.[dubious ] Field was buried on January 19. He was interred in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.


After his death, Field's estate was to be held in trust for 40 years for his two grandsons, Henry Field and Marshall Field III. In 1905, Field's fortune was valued at $125 million.[11] Henry Field died in 1917 and was thus unable to collect his inheritance, leaving the Field fortune in the hands of Marshall Field III.[12]

The Field Museum of Natural History was named after him in 1894 after he gave it an endowment of one million dollars.[13] Field was initially reluctant to do so, reportedly saying "I don't know anything about a museum and I don't care to know anything about a museum. I'm not going to give you a million dollars."[14] However he later relented after railroad supplies magnate Edward E. Ayer, another early benefactor (and later first president) of the museum, convinced Field that his everlasting legacy would be achieved by financing the project.[15] The year after his death the Field Museum received a further $8,000,000 in accordance with his will.[16]

The University of Chicago was founded by both Field and New York's John D. Rockefeller, to rival nearby Evanston's Northwestern University.[17]

A bust of Marshall Field stands aside other early 20th century Chicago industry magnates on the north riverbank on the Chicago River facing the Merchandise Mart.

See also


  1. Marden, Orison Swett. How Marshall Field Succeeded, Mises Institute
  2. Ralph J. Christian (March 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Marshall Field & Company Store" (pdf). National Park Service. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> and Accompanying six photos, exterior and interior, from 1960 and undated PDF (32 KB) (A biography of Marshall Field is included)
  3. Robert L. Gale, “The Gay Nineties in America: A Cultural Dictionary of the 1890s,” Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1992, 123.
  4. Twyman, “History of Marshall Field & Co.,” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1954, 13.
  5. Schlup, Leonard. "Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age." (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), p. 160
  6. The customer is always right
  7. Schlup and Ryan, “Historical Dictionary,” M.E. Sharpe, 2003, 161.
  8. O'Gorman, James F. "The Marshall Field Wholesale Store: Materials Towards a Monograph." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol 37, No 3, October 1978. pp 175-194. JSTOR
  9. "People & Events: Marshall Field (1834-1906) and Midwestern Commerce". Chicago: City of the Century. PBS Online. 2003. Retrieved 2008-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lawrence County, Ohio Historical Society
  11. Leonard Schlup and James Ryan, “Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age,” M.E. Sharpe, 2003, 160.
  12. "Henry Field Dies in Hospital Here." The New York Times, July 9, 1917. The New York Times Archive
  13. Alexander (1996), p. 55
  14. Quoted in Alexander (1996), p. 55.
  15. See Alexander (1996), pp. 55–56. Ayer reportedly convinced Field with the words, "You can sell dry goods until hell freezes over, but in 25 years, you will be absolutely forgotten." See Anderson (1921).
  16. Alexander (1996), p. 56
  17. Men of Affairs: a gallery of cartoon portraits, Chicago Evening Post, 1906; page 1.


  • "People & Events: Marshall Field (1834-1906) and Midwestern Commerce". Chicago: City of the Century. PBS Online. 2003. Retrieved 2008-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • John Howard Brown, ed. (1900). "Field, Marshall". Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States. Boston, MA: James H. Lamb.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Alexander, Edward P. (1996). Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. Foreword by William T. Alderson. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, in cooperation with the American Association for State and Local History. ISBN 0-7619-9155-7. OCLC 33983419.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Anderson, Jon (1921-05-02). "The Field Museum". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Company. Retrieved 2008-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Green, James (2007). Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Madson, Axel (2002). The Marshall Fields. New York: John Wiley & Sons.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rhoads, Mark (2006-08-22). "Illinois Hall of Fame - Marshal Field". Illinois Review. Retrieved 2008-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sullivan, Timothy E. (1999). "Marshall Field". In James Garraty (ed.) (ed.). American National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CS1 maint: extra text: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tebbel, John (1947). The Marshall Fields. New York: E. P. Dutton.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wendt, Lloyd and Herman Kogan, (1952) Give the Lady What She Wants! The Story of Marshall Field & Company. New York: Rand McNally and Company