How Sears and Roebuck Started by Selling WatchesBack to News & Exhibitions
Sears, Roebuck & Co., one of the biggest and well-known retailers of its time, started in the timepiece business. Through ingenuity and seizing an opportunity, Richard Sears was able to start a big-box retailer that changed the lives of many people. Few people know that their first product was timepieces. It is a little-known fact about Chicago’s history. Here is a look at how Sears, Roebuck & Co. started by selling pocket watches.
Richard Sears, the Telegraph Operator
In the 1880s, the best place to get a timepiece was the nearest train station. Back then, telegraph offices were located in train stations because the telegraph lines ran along the rail lines. This minimized the amount of construction and civil engineering needed to place the lines. Telegraph operators were aware of nearly everything that was shipped through their stations since they were largely responsible for coordinating shipments. Richard Sears was a telegraph operator in a train station in Chicago.
As Sears worked the telegraph office, a shipment of pocket watches arrived. However, no one claimed the shipment. Sears contacted the manufacturer to find out what to do with the crate full of watches. Rather than pay to have it returned, the manufacturer asked Sears to sell them. Seizing his opportunity, he agreed and reached out to all of the telegraph operators and railway employees that he could reach. He offered quality timepieces at an affordable cost, and he sold all of them.
Sears the Salesman and Roebuck the Watchmaker
After selling all of the timepieces, word spread that Sears was a seller of quality pocket watches. Between the quality and the price, he became the preferred retailer over the stores in the area. Using the profits, Sears purchased more watches to sell. The demand became so great that he needed help producing and selling the watches. He partnered with Alvah Roebuck, a professional watchmaker, to expand the business.
As Sears and Roebuck’s business grew, they added new products to their inventory besides timepieces. The business continued to expand until it grew too large for the telegraph office. The two men moved their business to a new location and continued to grow into the retail giant that was Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Chicago has always been a city where opportunity is available for anyone that can seize it. This continues to be true, especially for anyone looking for fine timepieces. There are many stories about how an entrepreneurial spirit in Chicago seize his/her moment and turned it into the chance of a lifetime. Don’t miss your chance to find a piece of Chicago’s rich timepiece history.
If you want to find a watch that exceeds your expectations in terms of quality, performance, and price, don’t just search for “watch shop near me” on your phone. Look for Swiss FineTiming, and give us a call. We specialize in fine timepieces and can help you find the timepiece that fits you the best. We also cater to collectors looking for rare and unique pieces. Knowing the deeper history of Chicago’s watch industry, we can be your advantage in finding the best rare watches for your collection.