Friday, January 12, 2018

A Look Back at a Giant -- Sears, Roebuck, and Co.

by Kathryn Albright

There is a lot of hullabaloo now-a-days about Amazon and online shopping. Amazon has been a force ever since it emerged as an online bookseller back in 1995. But before Amazon – 100 years before – there was Sears, Roebuck and Company, who came on the scene in much the same way. It's a story of ingenuity and seizing an opportunity--an American success story. 

Richard Warren Sears
Richard Warren Sears was born in 1863 in Minnesota. In 1886, at the age of twenty-three, he worked as a Station agent for the railroad in North Redwood, Minnesota. When a shipment of watches was refused by a local jeweler, Richard Sears agreed to sell them on consignment for the shipper. The watches sold quickly and the experience proved so lucrative that Sears ordered more to be sold through other station agents. A few months later, he quit his job for the railroad and started his own mail-order business.

From such humble beginnings, this “master salesman” made smart decisions to grow his company—moving to Chicago for better transportation options, diversifying into other items, and taking on a watch repairman, Alvah Roebuck as a partner. For a very short time Roebuck owned the business entirely, but then Sears returned and convinced him to let him buy back half-interest in it.

The first catalog for the A.C. Roebuck Company was published in 1891 and was 32 pages of watches, plus a few sewing machines and jewelry. The next year, the catalog was over 100 pages. Aaron Nussbaum and Julius Rosenwald, two Chicago businessmen bought out Roebuck’s half of the business in 1895 and the catalog grew to 532 pages and carried a huge assortment of items--rifles, movie cameras, telescopes, washer-machines, clothing, furniture, stoves, musical instruments, buggies, saddles and tack--even health tonics and tombstones and kits for houses! 

Then, when Henry Ford started selling his automobile to the masses, people didn’t mind driving to nearby towns to get what they wanted. Sears took notice and to counter this move in the 1920s, Sears opened retail stores. The company started making and selling its own brand items such as Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances. In 1933, Sears put out its first Sears Wishbook filled with toys and gifts in anticipation of Christmas. (I remember the thrill of looking through this catalog when I was young!) Later on Sears moved into insurance (Allstate), credit cards and an early version of the internet for online shopping called Prodigy!

Sears Merchandise Building Tower,
Homan Avenue, North Lawndale, Illinois.
Richard Sears passed away in 1908 at the age of forty-five. (Lifespan at that time averaged 50 years.) I just wonder what he would have thought of the amazing growth of his business.   

Like Ben Franklin 5 & dime stores and Woolworth's, it is with a certain sadness I watch the demise of a company that for so many years provided rural America with a choice of items so much larger than what could be obtained at the local variety store. In 1993, Sears stopped distributing its catalog. In  the 1990s, Wal-Mart surpassed it to became the nation’s largest retailer. More competition with Target, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney brought further sharing of the people's resources. In 2016, Amazon left Sears, Roebuck and Co. in the dust, making $136 billion in sales to Sears' $22 billion. 

[Investopedia | Who Killed Sears? 50 Years on the Road to Ruin by David Floyd. Updated January 4, 2018.]

Willis Tower -- formerly the
Sears Tower, 2nd tallest building
in the United States

Where do you prefer to shop?  In a store or online?
And what store do you remember from your childhood that is no longer here?

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ice Skates

by Shanna Hatfield

When I was a little girl, growing up on our family's farm, the winter brought cold, snow, and a whole different set of chores.

It also meant I could sled off the hill behind our house, build snow forts, and, if the pond froze - go skating.

My dad had an old apple crate full of ice skates that looked like they might have been the first to roll off the assembly line back when they started mass manufacturing. But the worked just fine for gliding (or in my case, tripping and falling) across the ice.

As I was thinking about those old skates and the fun we used to have on the pond, it made me wonder about the history of ice skating.

Historians, it seems, generally agree ice skating originated in ancient Europe. The oldest pair of skates currently known were found in the bottom of a Switzerland lake and date back to about 3000 B.C. The skates were made from the leg bones of large animals with holes bored at each end of the bone. Leather straps were used to tie the skates on.

A study from 2008 that looked at northern European geography suggested that ice skates most likely first appeared in Finland. With many lakes in the region, the study said Finns who could skate across the large bodies of water rather than skate around would save both time and energy.

The Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat, iron runners around the 14th century. Skates were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps and poles were used to propel the skater forward. Around 1500, the Dutch added a double-edged, narrow blade that made the pole obsolete. These "Dutch Roll" skates made it possible for skaters to push and glide with their feet.

A man from Philadelphia invented the first all-steel clamp for skates in 1848. In 1865, Jackson Haines, a famous skater of his time, developed the two-plate all-metal blade that attached directly to his boots. He added the first toe pick to skates in the 1870s.  By the early 1900s, another U.S. blade maker developed a closed-toe blade made from one piece of steel that resulted in lighter, stronger skates.

If you have a chance to go skating this winter, take a spin around the ice for me.


USA Today bestselling author Shanna Hatfield is a farm girl who loves to write. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances are filled with sarcasm, humor, hope, and hunky heroes. When Shanna isn’t dreaming up dreamy characters, twisting plots, or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, she hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.
Shanna loves to hear from readers. 
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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Lawkeepers of the Old West

As the stories go, many cities and towns in the old west were rowdy places where even the law of the land was hard to enforce. But these areas started growing. Families moved in. People wanted stability and safety for their children. They demanded more. They demanded help.

As the settlements grew, sheriffs and marshals were in high demand. Integrity and dedication were key elements in the make up of these men – and a few women – who helped tame the wild west. They made a difference every day they put on the badge.

Those who stood for right and stamped down wrong were heroes, plain and simple. These men of valor make us proud when we come across their stories. They didn’t back down from a fight with notorious outlaws. In fact, they thrived on it and in the process, they created the ideal for the perfect western hero.

These brave and well respected men didn’t have a motto. They just did their jobs. To protect and serve is a motto used by police forces across the country today. If the lawmen legends of the west were to have an opinion on that matter, I imagine they’d adopt To protect and serve as their own.

Inspired by the contributions to folkore and storytelling made by the legends of the law in the old west, a brand new series is starting soon. Four authors have teamed up to bring myth and legend together and then mix it with a touch of sweet romance. Come along with us as we tell The Lawkeepers stories and help them fall in love.

Along with my partners, Jenna Brandt, Lorana Hoopes, and Kate Cambridge—I can’t wait to share our new series with you. The first four books will be available on February 8, 2018

Follow The Lawkeepers page on Facebook as we begin sharing more information as the launch approaches.
Is a sneak peek of a cover in order? Of course it is!


Annie Boone writes sweet western historical romance with a happy ending guaranteed in every single story. Inspiration comes in many forms and Annie finds more than one way to make her stories entertain and inspire.

To connect with Annie, find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.

Follow Annie on Amazon, Bookbub and get email updates.

The Lawkeepers - don't miss it!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Old West Employment: Well Beyond Sheriff, Livery Owner, Saloon Keeper, Cowboy and Rancher, by Kristin Holt

by Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author

Have you noticed the list of "favorites" in Western Historical  Romances? The Top Fifteen Jobs held by men (and women) in the Old West? Based upon wholly unscientific research, it seems to me the majority of Heroes (and Heroines) bring home the bacon as one of the following:

  1. Lawman: Sheriff, Deputy Sheriff, City Marshal
  2. Pinkerton, Lady Pinkerton
  3. Livery Owner
  4. Saloon Keeper
  5. Saloon Girl
  6. Cowboy, Rancher
  7. Banker
  8. Bounty Hunter
  9. Outlaw
  10. Miner
  11. Teacher
  12. Boardinghouse / Hotel Owner
  13. Pastor
  14. Shopkeeper
  15. Fancy Lady / Soiled Dove / Fallen Woman
This list of "usual options" barely scratches the surface of true-to-history sources of income. Just like today, when men and women work at unique, different, interesting careers and vocations, people in the nineteenth century did so, too.

After all, somebody had to paint those signs merchants hung up on Main Street.
Signs might not be a surprise... but have you thought about upholsterers? Furniture Repair?

And builders of various kinds:

Women were often sought for "women's work" such as nursing the ill, seamstresses, cooks, housekeepers (private families and hotels).
 As evidenced by this coach shop interior finishing job reference, women were employed in the 19th century west in far more ways than one might expect:
Did you know many growing Old West cities had "Paper Binderies"? With plenty of business, they must have taken on jobs from a local printer, or from a businessman who wanted specialty ledgers. What else do you suppose they bound? Court records? (I've seen the bound volumes covering historical court cases.)

We're far from through! This "Business Cards" Section is precisely what it sounds like... business cards. The kind your dentist or doctor might have on their receptionist's counter. They served to advertise their business and location, along with specialties, in a section of the local newspaper. The following five images come from the Cortland Register of Cortland, Kansas on July 8, 1892.

Photographer! Plasterer! Post Master! Lumber Co.! Confectionery And Eating House! Bank Manager, General Merchandise, Pharmacist, and Hardware:
Two more General Merchandise establishments, a livery, a Meat Market (important!), a "Tonsorial Artist" (hairdresser), Physician & Surgeon, Grain sales, Shoemaker, Exchange Bank, Well Borer (can you imagine living without one of those?), and Paper Hanger.

Island Rock Elevator (Grain Company), Butler House (hotel or lodging), Millinery & Dress Making, Blacksmith (Horse-shoeing a Specialty), Racket Store, Stock Buyer (that beef must come from somewhere), and Well Boring and Rock Drilling:

Nursery (trees, plants), another Blacksmith, Stock & Grain, Lumber Yard (referenced location), Restaurant & Bakery (with a fine line of confectionery), Blacksmith, Notary Public (naturally!), Insurance Agent (surprised?), Grist Mill (no surprise there), Stock and Grain (again), and City Millinery (and Dress Making).

"Job Office" (neatness & dispatch; Printer), and a little more about Mrs. Wm. Campbell's City Millinery (at the bottom of the previous snipped image).

I'll add a few more I've seen in such "Business Cards" and advertisements in 19th century newspapers in the Western States and Territories:

1. Soda Fountains (usually in a pharmacy, or in rare situations, in a bakery or sweet shop), soda jerk
2. Land Office
3.  Assayer Office
4.  Professional painters
5.  Midwives
6.  Confectioners
7. Engravers (to make the pictures reproduced in newspapers)

8.  Jewelers & Watchmakers (and repair)

9. Bicycle Shops, repair
10. Beekeepers
11. Cement Companies (concrete)

12. Moving and Storage Companies (such as personal household moves)

13. Freight Companies (to move products for sale)

14. Dentist

15. Firemen, firefighters (if only volunteer)
16. Tailors (for men)
17. Musicians (whether for band or orchestra concerts, traveling musical shows, or paid performers at weddings, dances, etc.). These musicians often tuned pianos, sold musical instruments, and/or gave music lessons for hire.

18. Female Authors (for eastern magazines and presses)

19. Green Grocer (vegetables from local farmers or refrigerated rail cars)
20. Roller Skating Rink Proprietors

21. Theaters (proprietors, management, ushers, ticket sales)
22. Bath House
23. Wood Delivery

24. Coal delivery

25. Barber (Men's, including shaving services)
26. Hat Shop (men's--haberdashery, women's--millinery)
27. Brickyard

28. City Impound Lot (for wandering animals)
29. Dance Instructors
30. Undertaker (and furniture builder, who often built caskets)

 31. Judge, Lawyer / Attorney

32. Cooper (barrel maker)
33. Wagon shop (repair, new construction), Wheelwright
34. Handyman
35. Shingle Manufacturer

36. Laundry
37. Sawmill

38. Planing Mill

39. Farrier (craftsman who trims and shoes horses' hooves)
40. Newspaperman and Newspaper Printer
41. Museum and Menagerie

42. Water Delivery
43. Iceman (delivery)
44. Tobacco Shop
45. Surveyor / Civil Engineer

46. Stone Masons and Quarriers

47. Bone Collectors (buffalo bones on prairie)
48. Railroad workers of many varieties (station master, engineer, track layers, switchmen, firemen (kept the steam engine fires going), etc.)
49. Bridge Builders

50. Telegraph Operator
51. Hello Girls
52. Typewriter Girls
53. Brewers

54. Whisky Distillery

55. Harness Shop, Saddle Maker

56. Stage Driver
57. Wet Nurse

58. Stationery Shop
59. Gunsmith

60. Plumber

61. Phrenologist
62. Lecturer

63. Patent Medicine Salesman
64. Drummer (traveling salesman)
65. Public Library
66. Bookkeeper
Construction Laborer

68. Exterminator
69. Architect and Builder
70. Marble works (gravestones)
71. Veterinarian
72. Waitress in first class hotel restaurant
73. Grain Mill (someone must make flour)
Whew! That's quite a list! Maybe only authors of Western Historical Romance care about such things... but I imagine fans of the genre do, too.

What additions would you make to my "Usual Culprits" list?

What additions would you make to my True-to-History, Different Employment list?

Have you read a recommendable title with a hero or heroine working in an atypical Old West job?

Please share this article with others who might find it informative or helpful.

Interested in more about the Old West? Visit my cache of articles about everything Old West-- especially as it relates to Sweet Western Historical Romance:

Hi! I'm Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author.
I write frequent articles (or view recent posts easily on my Home Page) about the nineteenth century American West–every subject of possible interest to readers, amateur historians, authors…as all of these tidbits surfaced while researching for my books. I blog monthly at Sweet Romance Reads and Sweet Americana Sweethearts. I love to hear from readers! Please drop me a note. Or find me on Facebook.

Copyright © 2018 Kristin Holt LC