Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marshall Field's delivery wagons

One of the most common memories of Marshall Field's must be its delivery trucks. Those gorgeous green trucks coming up the street with fabulous goodies inside. By the end, these were used for furniture and not a whole lot else. But for decades the store would delivery anything from a new refrigerator to a spool of thread.

What is probably barely remembered today is that during much of the heyday of the store's delivery service, horse-drawn wagons were used:

In those days, it was not unknown for retailers to whip horses and flog them, sometimes even to death. According to Give the Lady What She Wants, Field had different ideas. He made cruelty to horses grounds for dismissal. On the very hottest days, horses had to rest (young boys strapped packages to their backs instead). Horses only worked half a day, even if that meant a driver had to leave his horse at a neighborhood stable and go back for another horse so he could finish his deliveries.

I would love to locate a photograph of signs in the Marshall Field's barns that read “Don’t whip the horses!”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advertising the toy dept

One of the quintessential Marshall Field's moves, at least in the days during and soon after its founder's leadership, was an insistence on service.

It's fascinating to see how this ideal extended even to advertising. Like in this postcard:

Notice that it does not extol how extensive their toy selection it (it was -- at one time among the largest in the U.S., if not the largest) or how diverse (anything from a single balloon to a custom-made bicycle or how rare (one-of-a-kind handpainted toy soldiers anyone?)

No, it's an educational blurb about the value of toys in a child's growth and development. About how important they are in developing breadth and activity. A little lesson in how much Field's cares about that.

I'm not saying there's anything false here. On the contrary. One of the special things about the store was its consistent striving to show that it went above and beyond to provide the ultimate in service. Yes, sure, they're out to make a profit, but they almost make it sound like that's not really their main goal.

Note that even the central image is not really about the toys (that's reserved for the surprisingly detailed border illustrations), but rather of the children playing. And of course developing as they do so.

That is just SO Marshall Field's.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Crystal Palace

Just came upon this priceless ad from, I believe, 1974:
Anyone remember getting ice cream at the Crystal Palace? It wasn't on the 7th floor with the other restaurants, but on 3.

Come to think of it, I remember getting ice cream at the Oakbrook Center Field's store, in a place they called "Strawberry Fields," which had an all-strawberry theme: strawberry ice cream, strawberry-decorated cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries. It didn't last long, but I was enchanted with the idea, and the strawberry-printed tiles on the walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oooo boy my mother is going to be maaaaad

When I started researching Field's history, I figured, hey, I probably have a ton of photos of Field's. Definitely of the Walnut Room Christmas tree.

My family -- well, my three adorable nieces, my darling mother, my lovely sister and I -- have been going to the Walnut Room for at least 10 years now. Like everyone else, we wait around forever (well, unless my mother does the saintly thing and goes early to get us one of those buzzer things). One year we arrived around lunch hour and waited so long the girls resorted to stuffing themselves on potato chips and it was probably closer to 4 when we finally sat down for "lunch." The next year, we arrived so early we got seated at something like 10 a.m. These things just cannot be coordinated.

Nope. Two hours of digging through boxes of photos turned up exactly one out of focus photograph that doesn't include me:
My mother (who will hate me because she hates seeing photos of herself but I think she looks great) and my darling niece Annie.

Blurry? Check. No visuals of the background? Check. So tightly cropped it could be in any restaurant and we can only tell it's the Walnut Room because of the date marked stamped on it? Check check check.

Why is it that I take tons of photos of things I never want to look at in the future -- acquaintances from high school who happened to be at the graduation ceremony, buildings at college that I can no longer even recall what went on in them, every unflattering Halloween costume ever worn -- but the things that now really form cherished memories some elude photographic immortalization?

But these great traditions that we look forward to every year? Not nearly enough photos.

So, goal for the future: Take more photos. Of the things that really matter.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Marshall Field's Traditions

One of the delights of exploring department store history is learning which traditions are most cherished by customers and employees.

In talking with people and reviewing books and articles about Marshall Field’s, certain favorite traditions emerge as the standouts. In my unscientific assembling, the top 10 favorite traditions are:

10. Uncle Mistletoe. What's not to love about a Christmas character who looked like he stepped right out of a Dickens novel, encourages kids to join the Kindness Club, and has eyebrows that resemble small boats?

9. Marshall Field's Special Sandwich. A huge hunk of iceberg lettuce, some chicken and neon Thousand Island Dressing. A Classic, even if hasn't appeared on a menu for years.

8. The 3rd floor book department. This is the dept. that

started book signings and hosted everyone from Shirley Temple to Admiral Byrd to Amelia Earhart. For a while, the biggest book dept. in the world (or so Field's always said)

7. The 8th floor Trend House. A ground-breaking idea for its time -- an entire house set up on the 8th floor, changed about twice a year and featuring fully decorated rooms. Originally the furnishings were affordable and the looks something ordinary people might want, but gradually it drifted into the outrageously trendy and outrageously pricey.

6. The 4th floor children's dept, especially the toy and game dept. At one time, the largest toy dept in the world (again, in Field's own unbiased words) and full of exclusives, like Field's own Madame Alexander dolls and Marshall Field's green Tonka trunks.

5. The Great Clock. According to legend, established so people would have a convenient place to meet. The original clock at State and Washington was replaced when the new store building went up. And a mate was installed at State and Wabash (in the new building that actually opened prior to the one at State and Washington). Designed by Daniel Burnham's firm, which also did the building, and slated for memoralization in a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell. For some reason, the clock at Washington St. became more famous than the one at Wabash -- and both more famous than virtually any other clock in Chicago.

4. The Tiffany mosaic glass dome. Still the largest individual piece of irridescent glass mosaic ever installed. When it opened, as part of the new building's opening in 1907, president John G. Shedd worried that the floor under the dome might not hold up under the weight of the throngs who came to see the dome.

3. Frango mints. Chocolate. Mint. Delicious. Not a Field's original (acquired with the acquisition of the legendary Frederick and Nelso Dept. store in 1929) but Field's made it its own, producing it for years on the flagship store's 13th floor. Field's perpetuated the wonderful legend that they were originally called Franco's but were renamed when the Spanish dictator rose to power. Sadly, patent application papers reveal that the name Frango was registered in 1918, long before anyone heard of Generalissimo Franco.

2. The Great Tree in the Walnut Room. Originally a 45-foot real tree hauled up the light well and monitored by firefighters, but for most of its history an artificial -- but splendid tree rising several stories high. Eating lunch or having tea under the Great Tree became such a tradition for Chicago families that many children's memories include the hours and hours -- and hours -- of waiting until a table openedup.

1. The Christmas holiday windows. Marshall Field's was not the first department store to put up Christmas window displays, but like so many other things, the Field's windows came to feel like the best in Chicago.

Ok, maybe nothing earth-shattering here, but think about this:

On this list, 5 of the 10 are not directly related to buying. The Christmas windows, the Tiffany dome, the Great Clocks -- not things you came to purchase, but rather the delightful, lavish displays that drew you to the store and made experiencing it a one-of-a-kind, special indulgence. They marked a visit to the store as something opulent and luxurious. They were part of the “feel” of the store, the emotional whallop a visit to it delivered.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Remembering State St

Today, with even the great grande dame Carson Pirie Scott gone, it's hard to remember that State St was once packed with retail boutiques and department stores.

Consider the block directly south of Fields:
That's Field's on the far left, the Columbus Memorial Bldg (some retailers but also offices), then Chas A Stevens, then Mandel Bros, then Carson's on the far right at the corner of State and Madison. And that's just one side of one block!

What's even more amazing is that this density of retail didn't come about as a result of mere competition. Field himself (as in, Marshall #1) purchased chunks of real estate and sold it to other retailers, hoping to draw more retail business to the area around his store. The thinking, not unlike that for a mall today, was that the more shops were concentrated in one area, the more likely people will come to that area to go shopping.

I think the mobility that cars gave us has made us forget just how much of a virtue this was in the days when trains, trolleys, streetcars, and horse-drawn buggies were the major modes of transportation.

And helps us understand why the arrival of the automobiles (making it so much easier for people to go wherever the wanted to shop) and the continuing increase in population in Chicago (making it more and more congested on State St) ultimately spelled trouble for State St.

But nonetheless, for a brief while, luring other department stores and boutiques to the area around his store was a brilliant strategy for Field.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Please, give me more to read!

I sometimes get asked to recommend books for folks who want to learn more about Marshall Field's. Or just want to oogle photos of Frango mints.

Wait no more. Here's my list of favorite books about Field's. Some of these are scholarly; some are popular. Some are all about Field’s; others just include a few photos or mentions. Taken together, they present a rich history of this beloved grande dame of retail.

They're in alphabetical order, as any good history prof would recommend:

DePaola, Tomi. With Warmest Regards: A Celebration of Our Customers’ Recipes and Traditions: Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Hudson’s. Contemporary Books: 1995.

Ditchett, Samuel Herbert. Marshall Field and Company: The Life Story of a Great Concern. Dry Good Economist: 1922.

Greene, Joan. A Chicago Tradition: Marshall Field’s Food and Fashion, Chicago Cultural Center Foundation. Pomegranate, 2005.

Hendrickson, Robert. Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History of America’s Great Department Stores. Stein and Day: 1979.

Howard, Vicki. Brides, Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition. University of Pennsylvania Press: 2008.

Kimbrough, Emily. Through Charley’s Door. Harper Collins, 1952.

Leach, William R. Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. Vintage: 1994.

Ledermann, Robert P. Christmas on State Street: 1940’s and Beyond. Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Lewis, Russell. Historic Photos of Chicago. Turner Publishing: 2006.

Madsen, Axel. The Marshall Fields: The Evolution of an American Business Dynasty. Wiley, 2002.

Marshall Field’s, Marshall Field’s Frango Chocolate Cookbook. Contemporary Books, 1988.

McNulty, Elizabeth. Chicago Then and Now. Thunder Bay Press, 2000.

Pridmore, Jay. Marshall Field’s (A Building Book). Pomegranate, 2002.

Twyman, Robert W. The History of Marshall Field and Company, 1852-1906. Beaufort Books,1976; ACLS Humanities E-Book, 2008.

Siegelman, Stephen. The Marshall Field’s Cookbook: Classic Recipes and Fresh Takes from the Field’s Culinary Council. Book Kitchen, 2006.

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Hudson’s. Contemporary Books: 1992.

Vikochil, Larry A. Chicago at the Turn of the Century in Photographs: 122 Historic Views from the Collections of the Chicago Historical Society. Dover: 1984.

Wendell, Ann. Frederick & Nelson. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

Wendt, Lloyd. Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field and Co. 1951, 1965, 1997.

Werner, Jane. Uncle Mistletoe (Little Golden Book). Simon and Schuster: 1953.

Whitacker, Jan. Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class. St. Martin’s Press: 2006.

If you just want a great read, pick up Give the Lady What She Wants or Through Charley's Door. They're both delicious reads.