Sears Roebuck & Co.

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Raymond Loewy (1893—1986)


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(established 1893)

The origins of the company lay in the activities of Richard Sears, an agent of the Minneapolis and St Louis railway station in Minnesota, USA, who began trading watches up and down the line. After moving to Chicago in 1887 he employed Alvah Roebuck, forming Sears Roebuck & Co. in 1893. They began to compete with expensive rural stores by selling an increasing variety of goods via mail order and railway delivery. By the mid‐1890s the catalogues were substantial, (over 500 pages), offering a wide range of goods, from furniture, glassware, and ceramics to musical instruments, women's clothing, and farm wagons. The company grew rapidly and built a 40‐acre (16‐hectare) mail order plant and office building in Chicago in 1906, followed by a mail order plant in Dallas, Texas, in 1912. With the growth of chain stores, Sears moved into retailing in 1925, moving from a single outlet to more than 300 by 1929, with retail sales exceeding those of mail order in 1931. Sears Roebuck also occasionally commissioned designers to improve the design of their goods as, for example, the industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who was employed by the company from 1932 to design a new refrigerator. This resulted in the stylish, streamlined Coldspot refrigerator of 1935, which proved to be a market success. After the Second World War expansion continued with the formation of Simpsons‐Sears Limited in Canada in 1953 (now Sears Canada Inc.) and the opening of sales offices and stores in other countries. The company's continued success was symbolized in the construction of its new headquarters in Chicago, the 110‐storey Sears Tower that opened in 1973 as the world's tallest building. In the 1980s and 1990s the company underwent considerable corporate restructuring which included the closure of its least profitable department stores as well as its catalogue distribution operations in 1993. However, in the late 1990s Sears was still a very substantial retail company with more than 800 department stores nationwide, more than 1,300 other Sears stores, and the Sears Shop at Home Service.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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