Sears and Roebuck

Pour one out for the Sears Catalog, the original market disrupter

Whet Moser pointed out this enlightening Twitter thread that explains an aspect of Sears I hadn’t considered before: by disrupting retail stores with mail-order, it was empowering a demographic that was often underserved in their communities:

The Sears catalog succeeded because it got the goods to people who couldn’t get to stores. One of those demographics? African-Americans. In a lengthy Twitter thread, Cornell historian Louis Hyman writes that it freed up black Southerners from going to general stores, which was often (at best) a humiliating experience. Store owners were so incensed that they “organized catalog bonfires in the street.”

It served as a similar resource for Appalachian coal miners, providing huge discounts over rip-off company stores. Sears also had “a policy that his company would fill any order it received, no matter what the medium or format”—a boon to customers who struggled with literacy.

On The Media’s Brook Gladstone spoke with Louis Hymen, the author of that twitter thread and professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in a podcast extra last week. Listen or download.

Gender stereotypes, toys, and the Sears Catalog

Elizabeth Sweet, writing in the New York Times, way back in 2012 on her research into the role of gender stereotypes in the marketing of toys: During my research into the role of gender in Sears catalog toy advertisements over the 20th century, I found that in 1975, very few toys were explicitly marketed according to gender, and nearly 70 percent showed no markings of gender whatsoever. In the 1970s, toy ads often defied gender stereotypes by showing girls building and playing airplane captain, and boys cooking in the kitchen. » about 400 words