John Wanamaker collection
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
John Wanamaker was born on July 11, 1838 on the outskirts of Philadelphia. His parents were Nelson Wanamaker, a brickmaker of Scottish ancestry, and Elizabeth Kochersperger, of French Huguenot descent. He spent two years on an Indiana farm as a child but grew up mostly in Philadelphia, where he turned bricks at his father’s yard and worked as an errand or utility boy at various firms. From age sixteen to nineteen he worked as a salesman and a buyer at the clothing retailer Tower Hall, owned by Colonel Joseph Bennett. He then spent three years as secretary of the Philadelphia Y.M.C.A. In 1858 he founded Bethany Chapel in Philadelphia’s South Street district and served as superintendent there for three years. Wanamaker married Mary Erringer Brown of Philadelphia in 1860. The couple had six children, four of whom lived to be adults: Thomas Brown Wanamaker, Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, Mary Brown Wanamaker (Warburton), and Elizabeth Wanamaker (McLeod).
In 1861, John Wanamaker and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, opened the clothing store Oak Hall a few doors west of Tower Hall. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Wanamaker was rejected from enlistment in the Union Army due to a lung condition. However, he supported the war effort through his store, which supplied uniforms and clothing to the Army. Nathan Brown died in 1868 and Wanamaker continued the store on his own. In 1869, he established John Wanamaker & Co. on Chestnut Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. Whereas Oak Hall was established to provide clothing for everyone, the original John Wanamaker & Co. was a luxury shop. In 1876, he opened “the Grand Depot,” Philadelphia’s first department store, on the site of a former Pennsylvania Railroad depot at Thirteenth and Market streets. John Wanamaker & Co. gradually expanded and became a regional chain with fifteen stores, including a New York City store, which Wanamaker purchased from A. T. Stewart in 1896.
In 1889 John Wanamaker was appointed to be the 38th postmaster general of the United States by President Harrison and served for four years. One of his innovations was rural free delivery, which was implemented after he left office. Free delivery was already available in the cities but in the rural areas people had to walk to the local post office for mail and often they would go without mail for weeks at a time.
John Wanamaker died in 1922, and his son Rodman succeeded him as head of the business, but himself died in 1928. The company did well and expanded over the next several decades, but went into decline during the 1960s and 1970s and was sold to Woodward & Lothrop in 1986. The Wanamaker building at Thirteenth and Market streets was registered with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and as of 2015 continues to operate as a department store owned by Macy's.
The John Wanamaker collection includes correspondence, financial volumes, scrapbooks, albums, estate and legal papers, store records, publications, photographs, financial files, sales portfolios, sound recordings, glass negatives, and deeds. This rich and extensive collection is arranged into five series and spans over 150 years. It details the history of Wanamaker's store in Philadelphia and its influence as a major city retailer during the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also material that documents John Wanamaker's activities concerning social reform and cultural attitudes. There is information on his work as postmaster general, including information on weather and why mail was not delivered, and on his religious and political activities. Materials are generally arranged in chronological order; however, the loose photographs in Series Four are arranged by subject and size.
Series I is composed of personal records from 1850-1986. This series contains loose correspondence, letterpress copy books, speeches, diaries, editorials, estate papers and biographer's papers. There are also scrapbooks and photograph albums pertaining to personal and family interests such as John Wanamaker's political career, Bethany Sunday School, Rodman Wanamaker's aviation and collecting activities, and memorial scrapbooks for both John and Rodman Wanamaker.
Series II is composed of store records from 1861-1987. This series contains records of the Executive Divisions of John Wanamaker Philadelphia and New York and the Sales Division of the flagship store. It also includes various store publications and several boxes of deeds.
Series III is composed of miscellaneous publications from 1827-1917. This series contains annual reports of the Federal Department of the Treasury and the Office of the Postmaster General. Also included are miscellaneous volumes from the loan collection of Rodman Wanamaker, ten large atlases of the Philadelphia area and Atlantic County, NJ from dating from 1883 to 1914, and several sound recordings.
Series IV is composed of prints and photographs from 1861-1980. This series consists primarily of photographic prints, both loose and in albums, many of which were taken by store photographers to document store operations and events. The following photographers are represented: D. Sargent Bell, Harry S. Hood, Richard T. Dooner, and Charles H. Miller. There are also glass plate negatives and lantern slides. The loose photographs are arranged into three topical groups.
Series V, the addendum, is composed of material that was not included with the collection when it was originally donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Some items are duplicates of previously cataloged papers. There are also miscellaneous photographs and cabinet cards, several boxes of correspondence and financial records from the Wanamaker Institute of Industries, copies of Wanamaker's newspaper editorials, miscellaneous prints, booklets, and other publications.
Gift of Woodward and Lothrop, Inc., 1988; gift of the Wanamaker Institute of Industries, 1995.
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos and edited by Matthew Lyons (2012 January)
The collection recieved additonal processing in 2015 as part of the Howard Lewis project. Volumes were re-numbered and the contents of boxes 9 through 14b were reintegrated into the collection as volumes. Carton boxes were divided into three document boxes with 'a', 'b', and 'c' designations. Oversized items were de-framed and re-housed in flat file drawers and re-numbered. The finding aid was updated and edited by Megan Sheffer Evans (2015 May)
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Date
- ; March 2013
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos and edited by Matthew Lyons.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
This series contains loose correspondence, letterpress copy books, speeches, diaries, editorials, estate papers and biographer's papers. The loose correspondence is primarily comprised of Wanamaker's family correspondence; however, there are letters of other correspondents such as Charles A. Dichey, Robert C. Ogden, Dwight L. Moody, George H. Stuart, and George W. Childs. John Wanamaker's letterpress books are made up mostly of business correspondence with customers and with his sons Thomas B. and Rodman Wanamaker. There are also copies of letters concerning Wanamaker's political, religious and philanthropic activities, such as those with Bethany Church, which he helped establish, the YMCA, and the Friendly Inn.
There are also scrapbooks and photograph albums pertaining to personal and family interests such as John Wanamaker's political career, Bethany Sunday School, Rodman Wanamaker's aviation and collecting activities, and memorial scrapbooks for both John and Rodman Wanamaker.
Other records in this series include John Wanamaker's estate papers that date from 1923 to 1934 and primarily concern his various philanthropies and beneficiaries. There are also the Rodman Wanamaker estate papers, which date from 1928 to 1986. They contain information on the store, insurance trusts set up in his will, and the beneficiaries' various conflicts with the trust over income and the potential sale of the store.
Rounding out the series are papers of three John Wanamaker biographers: Russell Conwell, Herbert A. Gibbons, and Edward Robins. These materials include correspondence, research materials, and copies of the ensuing works. Also included are Gibbons's indexed research cards on the Wanamaker family, store history and practices, and related subjects. These cards contain references to original materials within the store papers and are arranged alphabetically in twenty-one boxes.
Herbert Adams Gibbons Card Files: This is a large 24-drawer metal file cabinet. See appendix "A" for listing of contents of each drawer. Only the Subject Headings of each drawer are given here. 1. Philadelphia store - 1861-1922 2. Philadelphia store since 1922 3. New York store 4. Stores 5. Employees - Wanamaker stores 6. Advertising - store exhibitions - features 7. Merchandising policies & foreign business partnerships 8. History of retail merchandising since 1860 9. Personal biography #1 10. Personal biography #2 11. Personal biography #3 12. Family 13. Personal activities & travel 14. Speeches - miscellaneous writings 15. Maxims 16. Editorials and other writings 17. Firsts 18. Political activities 19. Patriotic activities - world war and aftermath 20. Religious and philanthropic interests 21. Bethany Church and Brotherhood 22. Bethany Sunday School 7 Chambers Memorial 23. Bibliography 1 24. Bibliography 2 Edward Robins: John Wanamaker and His Times, Chapter 1-14 Edward Robins: John Wanamaker and His Times, Chapters 15-27
This series contain records of the Executive divisions of John Wanamaker Philadelphia and New York and the Sales Division of the flagship store. It also includes various store publications and several boxes of deeds.
records include meeting minutes of each of the boards of directors of the New York and Philadelphia stores; A. T. Stewart Realty company papers concerning the New York property; annual, quarterly, and monthly financial statements; store contracts and operations manuals; and store policy statements, memoranda, and surveys on merchandising. Additionally, there is late 19th to early 20th century correspondence and advertisements and samples of the store's trademarks. There are also papers documenting the establishment, renewal, cancellation and infringement of trademarks and copyright on Wanamaker products and advertising campaigns. Concerning these matters, there is a sizeable amount of correspondence between representatives of the New York and Philadelphia stores and their respective legal counsels. Also included in the executive division records are papers on John Wanamaker's involvement with the design, construction and installation of the Founder's Bell atop the Lincoln-Liberty Men's Store once located at Broad and Chestnut Streets, with Isaiah Williamson and the Williamson Free Trade School, and with the YMCA.
This group of records also contains several bound volumes, such as scrapbooks, sample books, account books, department profit ledgers, salary ledgers, and a visitor's register for the Philadelphia store. The scrapbooks contain historical store ephemera such as advertisements, flyers from store openings, store policies and notices, and material concerning the Wanamaker Athletic Award. The printer's sample books contain samples of plates illustrating store business and activities, as well as John and Rodman's personal interests.
The second group of records under this series is the records, which include materials relating to the store's Visual and Marketing departments. Art Department records include information on artists whose works were collected by John and Rodman Wanamaker, inventories of art displayed in the store and at Wanamaker residences, and material from the 1920s and 1930s on the Paris salons. Display Department records include correspondence, materials on exhibitions within the store, and Howard Kratz's files as department head. The Decorating Department's files consist primarily of budgetary papers. The Publicity Department records document advertising promotions and events planning, especially the store's annual Christmas displays and the 100th Anniversary celebration. There are also the files of Reeves Wetherill, vice president for public relations from 1960 to 1987, which contain information on the John Wanamaker Athletic Association, the store's 100th Anniversary event, and various celebrity in-store appearances.
The section of this series includes product catalogs, children's story booklets, employee manuals, and exhibition catalogs published by Wanamaker's. It also contains programs (some pertaining to the Wanamaker-Millrose games), songbooks, store guides (for both the New York and Philadelphia stores), store newspapers, and newsletters such as the employee newsletter entitled "The Eagle Speaks." Additionally, in this section are John Wanamaker's personally published diaries, which he began producing yearly in 1900. In addition to blank, dated pages for daily writing, these books contained printed store advertisements and columns similar to those found in farmer's almanacs (useful lists, recipes, anecdotes, etc.) The majority of the diaries in this section were acquired by the store as part of an effort to archive the store's history and activities. Encouraged by this notion, many Wanamaker patrons sent in their own copies of the diary; thus many of these diaries contain personal stories not necessarily related to Wanamaker's. There are also nineteen volumes of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware newspaper advertisements for Wanamaker's merchandise.
At the end of this series are twenty-three boxes of deeds to Wanamaker Store properties, other business properties, Wanamaker residential properties, and miscellaneous properties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, New York, Washington, D.C., and Illinois.