Blacksmith James Warren Sears reached for his newspaper. It was the only thing he looked forward to all day.
He read of the The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It would aid in the construction of a continental railroad and telegraph line. It said that Lincoln and his Union promised it would span from the Missouri river all the way to the Pacific ocean. They claim it would change the country.
The blacksmith scoffed and went back to reading about the war. Roughly 23 years later, his son Richard Warren would find himself at a crossroads and the blacksmith wanted to make sure that his son took advantage of what Lincoln had once promised the nation.
"You need to wear a suit, son," the blacksmith told his boy. "I've got soot under my nails from before you were born."
So the only logical prospect in Redwood Falls, Minnesota came in the form of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway. The day before he started, the young man had trouble finding a suit that fit him at the general store. He was of average build and most of the town's average men bought them all up. So he wore his father's pathetic baggy suit the day he started as a station agent.
Young Richard loved to listen to passengers, who were thankful that the horrid tribulations of stagecoach convoys were no longer a reality. What once took seven weeks now took seven days. Travel had become elegant with tea cars and whiskey bars boasting plush leather seating.
But every now and then Richard found himself a bit bored and one day, happened upon a small box of gold pocket watches on the train. Unwanted by a local retailer, Richard struck a deal with him. He had plans for the watches.
At the station, Richard prided himself on being practically the fastest telegraph reader and transmitter on the nation's grid. Using that code called morse, Richard offered the watches to other station agents on the line who needed precise timepieces because of the newly applied time zones throughout the country.
Richard also marketed his wares to local farmers who also needed to keep proper time as a result the new zones. What's more, the elegant timepieces were also a mark of the new American urban sophisticate and other station agents bought them from Richard to sell to their passengers.
Six months later, Richard made $5000 and started his own watch company, placing several ads in farming almanacs and newspapers. He would urge the homespun folk to purchase by mail because if anyone could utilize the railroad for shipping, it was Richard.
By 1887, Richard would move his operation to Chicago and hired his first employee - Alvah Curtis Roebuck. Ten years later, their Sears catalog offered much more than watches and was sent to over 300,000 homes.
The 500-page tome offered up everything from plows to bikes to athletic equipment and he owed it all to the blacksmith and the railroad.
Looking at his catalog, he was finally satisfied. He sold it all with great service and speed.
And why not, he thought, somewhere a young man needs a suit that fits.
Friday, May 14, 2010