John Wanamaker: Philadelphia Merchant

Synopsis

John Wanamaker played a major role in the development of American retailing and consumerism. Opening a small men's store in Philadelphia in 1861, by the turn of the century he had major department stores in his home town as well as New York, and was one of the country's largest merchants. Wanamaker's world-view had as much of an impact on American culture as his business enterprises. In the early twentieth century the downtown department store was an important attraction for a city, similar in function to a symphony orchestra or major league sports team of today. Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia acted as an anchor for the city center. Like a magnet, the store held the urban population together by providing entertainment and a setting for civic ceremonies and pageants. Wanamaker's influence extended beyond the stores themselves. He provided employment for 8,000 people in Philadelphia and 7,000 in New York, offering jobs to blacks and women when they were still excluded from many businesses. He supported a 3,000 member church which ran a school, savings bank, library and employment service. John Wanamaker was a sharp businessman, and some of his methods have been criticized, but the state of America's inner cities of his era compared to today speaks for itself. Professor Herbert Ershkowitz of Temple University has drawn upon local archives to chronicle a unique chapter in the history of American culture.