John Wanamaker Biography

John Wanamaker

Born: 7/11/1838
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pa.

Later known for his upscale boutique clothing store, John Wanamaker & Company, he got his start at Oak Hall, a men's clothing store he co-owned with his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown. Upon Brown's death and timed to coincide with the nation's centennial, Wanamaker purchased the site of the former Pennsylvania Railroad in 1876 to open a retail establishment he called the Grand Depot. The idea failed to attract other merchants, however, so he opened a series of specialty shops under the same roof, ushering in the era of the “department store.” In 1896, he expanded to New York, and introduced innovative marketing (aggressive advertising, money-back guarantees, etc.) to spur the growth of his enterprises. Wanamaker was a recognized pillar of the community, supporting religious and patriotic causes; he founded a Sunday School, ran for political office, and offered employees time off for military service. President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Postmaster General (1889–93), where Wanamaker was credited with having introduced several efficiencies.

Died: 12/12/1922