#Lookback: Mail Order vs. Main Street

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community

brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

There is no denying that the advent of the internet and the development of e-commerce giants has disrupted the retail market in novel ways. But it may come as a surprise that brick-and-mortar stores have been engaged in competition with their ‘delivered right to your front door’ counterparts for a very long time. In fact, this competition started back in 1872 when traveling salesman Montgomery Ward introduced the concept of mail-order business to the United States.

Montgomery Ward may have been the first, but he was not alone. Other large retailers like Sears Roebuck & Company and Hammacher Schlemmer, the publisher of America’s longest-running catalog, followed suit shortly after. Some retailers were slow to adopt a catalog. Wyoming’s own James Cash Penny founded The Golden Rule store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902. As his chain of stores spread around Wyoming, and later the country, they were renamed J.C. Penny but the company did not produce a mail-order catalog until 1963!

Like today’s version of Amazon Prime, which utilizes a complex system of land and air travel to ship their goods, early catalog retailers were dependent on the railroad to deliver their products quickly and cheaply. These products ranged from the mundane – livestock, clothing, kitchen utensils – to the novel – pop-up toasters, electric toothbrushes, microwave ovens, and even telephone answering machines. Catalogs were sent far and wide, allowing retailers to tap into markets outside of their usual local clients.

Consumers in the past wanted to get a good deal – not much has changed there – and retailers commonly ran ads like the one published by F.A. Welty in a 1927 Dubois Courier. In this advertisement, the proprietor wisely highlights both the range of items available (without the use of a catalog) and the affordability of their goods over those of their mail-order competitors in Kansas City. Advertisements such as these helped remind consumers that bargains could be found right in their own general store, without the hassle of waiting for delivery or the anonymity of purchasing from a large company located out of state. Mail-order catalogs eventually faded away, replaced by on-line ordering, but the competitive nature of retail is still there and will no doubt continue to exist.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Fremont County Museums are open to the public. We have resumed our regularly scheduled hours Monday-Saturday from 9-5. Help us spread the word, tell a friend to tell a tourist.

Upcoming Programs

June 3rd, 9 am at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Corner: All About Bears”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

June 9th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum, “Five Mile Creek Tie Hack Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Children’s Exploration Series

June 10th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum “Kids Corner: Moon, Earth, Sun & Stars”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.