Monday, April 20, 2015

Montgomery Ward Memorabilia

In 2001 Montgomery Ward announced that it was going out of business after 129 years.  The company was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872.  As for myself, I had spent a number of years working at the company’s corporate offices in Chicago and, like many, many others, I was about to be unemployed. 
It was a sad and scary time for everyone.  It was also the end of a retailing era…the death of a retailing giant that had long been a fixture on the American scene.  

I’ve always been a collector of various 'stuff' and consequently I accumulated/purchased a few Montgomery Ward items over my years with the company.  After the closing announcement, many odds and ends were headed for the trash bin.  I managed to ‘rescue’ a few of them for my collection of Ward’s memorabilia and collectibles…

Since my position at Montgomery Ward involved security, loss prevention, safety, inventory shrinkage, collections…asset protection…it seemed appropriate that the first item I’ve included in this posting is this old 3” x 5” “Apprehension Card” that I came across as we closed down our operations.  

The juvenile shoplifter’s names have been blurred as they might possibly still be alive…although they’d be about 93 years old now!

One of my favorite items in my collection is this pamphlet from 1925 that documents the history of the company.  Even better is the fact that there are lots of pictures inside which document company operations… The catalog operations were huge in those days and thousands of employees filled work station after work station. 

The figure at the center of the pamphlet is the “Spirit of Progress”.  It depicts the goddess Diana, dressed in flowing robes, balancing on a globe, and holding a torch in her right hand and a caduceus in her left hand.

FYI…a caduceus from Greek is a "herald's staff" and it’s the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology.  The caduceus is a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation…

That image from the pamphlet directly represents this 22.5-foot bronze statue that still resides on top of the company’s former administration building which was built on Chicago Avenue in 1907.  It had originally been placed on top of the even older Montgomery Ward Building on Michigan Avenue… 

Yes, I still even have a few items of new clothing that I've never worn!  I did wear the tie on a couple of occasions but I’ve never used the sweater or the golf shirt.  I also have a couple of t-shirts and a sweatshirt. 

FYI…For the uninitiated, Electric Ave and More was an attempt by the company to open specialty stores in smaller markets. 

This is a whetstone that looks like a souvenir button or pin.  The small whetstone is attached to the back of the metal front.  I have no idea how old this is…but many of those reading this posting won’t even know what a whetstone is!

FYI, for any younger readers…a whetstone is a stone for sharpening cutlery or tools by friction.

This item was manufactured by the Parisian Novelty Company.  That company was founded in Chicago Illinois in 1898.  For over a century Parisian Novelty was the leading manufacturer of button parts, button making machinery and equipment for North American companies serving the promotional products industry.  It was purchased in 2008 and it continues in business as the Matchless Parisian Novelty Company.  That company was founded in 1895.

This Montgomery Ward “Cold Cooking” booklet of recipes dates back to 1941.  It’s all about summertime cooking and beverages. 

I have well over 100 security/loss prevention badges and cap medallions that I rescued from the trash bins when we closed up operations.  The first photo includes badges from stores in Ohio, Maryland and Texas.  The second photo includes a couple of badges from Illinois.  There is also a badge from Jefferson Stores (Jefferson Ward), a discount department store company that Montgomery Ward purchased and operated for a time.  The third photo shows a couple of the badges I have that were in cases.  The gold badge was from a location in Mobile Alabama.
The majority of the badges from over the years are simple silver medallions or stars, but apparently somewhere along the line more expensive types were ordered by the security department.   

A few years back, I purchased this toy train set on eBay.  I believe it dates back to the early 1960’s…and it doesn’t appear to have ever been used. 

When we opened a store in Fort Smith Arkansas, I was presented with this commemorative plate.  Other stores gave out shirts or hats.  I also have a black acrylic paperweight from the 1994 opening of a distribution center in Phoenix Arizona. (It features a rising phoenix!)

This is another paperweight… These were given out when the company spun off as a privately held company from its then parent, Mobil Oil.  

This 21 inch metal Nylint Montgomery Ward 18-wheeler sits on a shelf in our storeroom.  It dates back to the mid to late 1990’s. 

I also have a couple of Montgomery Ward delivery trucks that were manufactured by Ertl.  Both the 1932 Ford Panel Delivery Truck and the 1926 Mack “Bulldog” are also banks.  Ertl currently focuses on die-cast farm related replicas.  

Here are a few Montgomery Ward odds and ends… There’s a plastic coffee mug; an “owl” keychain with a safety message on the back (“Safety is no accident”); a number of ‘Gold Medallion Service Award’ cards; a “Kick it up a notch” pen/keychain, and a metal paint can/bottle opener.

These photos are blurry…my camera doesn’t do too well with close-up shots.  The pin on the left dates back to 1896 and it shows the old Montgomery Ward building in downtown Chicago.  The other pin is a 2-year Sales Achievement Award pin, date unknown.   

The previous two photos show examples of the service awards that Montgomery Ward handed out to associates for many years.  There were tie tacks, pins, charm bracelets and brooches.  These awards were for 2, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years of service.  The color of the ‘stones’ changed from clear to yellow to red depending on how many years the recipient had worked for the company.

I have many examples of Montgomery Ward booklets…mostly focused on safety and basic operations.  In addition, I have some old organization charts, a plethora of executive announcements and other paper based memorabilia.
Note: One reason for Montgomery Ward’s demise is the fact that at one point we churned through 60 executives in 60 months!

As an executive with the company, my wife and I were issued some ‘special’ Montgomery Ward credit cards… I especially like the ‘Desert Storm’ card!  This photo also includes some old Montgomery Ward Security stickers, a couple of badges that were used by our associates in the stores and a laminated card that associates wore for some time that contained the company’s stated Values and Guiding Principles on one side and the Mission Statement on the reverse.

More ephemera…a Security and a Loss Prevention shoulder patch plus 3 more Montgomery Ward/Electric Ave pens.  Originally, (long before my tenure), my function was called the Protection Department.  Then it became the Security Department, then Loss Prevention and Safety.  When the company closed, the term for the department was migrating toward the label of ‘Asset Protection’. 

The item at the bottom of this photo is a “Gold Medallion Service Pin”.  The watch is a special Holiday item.  I don’t know when it was marketed but this ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Limited Edition’ watch was licensed by the Robert L. May Co. for sale by Montgomery Ward. 

Note:  Robert Lewis May, (1905 – 1976), was the creator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  May’s parents were hard hit by the Great Depression and they lost just about everything.  Sometime in the 1930s, May moved to Chicago and took a job as a low-paid in-house advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward.  In early 1939, May’s boss at Montgomery Ward asked him to write a “cheery” Christmas book for shoppers and suggested that an animal be the star of the book.  

May decided to make a deer the central character of the book.  His then 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, loved the deer in the Chicago zoo.  The Rudolph poem booklet was first distributed during the 1939 holiday season.  Shoppers loved the poem and 2.4 million copies were distributed.  During WWII restrictions on paper use prevented a re-issue until 1946.  In that year, another 3.6 million copies were distributed to Montgomery Ward shoppers!  Even though the concept had been developed while May was employed by the company, by 1947 the rights to Rudolf were given to him. 

This is an old aerial photograph of downtown Chicago and the “new” Montgomery Ward complex on the north branch of the Chicago River.  I wish that I knew when this picture was taken…

The company’s huge facilities stretch from the lower left side all the way to the right center portion of the photo.  In the 1960’s a 25-story corporate tower was added to the complex and by the time I joined the company most of the large building in the center was either empty or used for storage.  That 2,000.000 square foot building used to be the focus of the company’s catalog operations…  

In addition to everything else, I have a couple of maps of the United States that show the locations of Montgomery Ward Store and Warehouses.  I also have a color coded atlas that shows locations and facility types by state.  The first map was published in 1957 and the second was issued in 1999. 

That’s about it for now… I will be posting a number of Montgomery Ward related postcards and related materials at a later date.

Just click on any of these photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Quite a collection. Iran across Montgomery Ward whetstone in our basement today. It was probably my grandmothers. My wife thought it was a refrigerator magnet. Don't know how old it is and could not find any others but yours on the web.

  2. Very impressive. My parents owned and operated a MW catalog franchise from 1964 through 1969 in Prince Frederick, Maryland. Top store for several years in sales. As a child it was a great learning experience working there as a child and pre-teen. Frank Godwin, North Carolina

  3. All kinds of cool stuff, Dave! I wanted to see what a Gold Medallion was (for a roundabout purpose, while writing an article about a Montgomery Ward Loss prevention training video), and when I Google-searched it, your post came up. Needless to say, I linked back to your article .

    I never shopped at Montgomery Ward (I live in New Jersey, and we never had one in my area, but had all of its competition), but I've heard of it. You have an amazing collection of items.

    Thanks for sharing all of this!

  4. Hello,
    I purchased a box of items at an auction.In the box was a Montgomery Ward shipping container,made of cardboard and leather. Had a note in it from 1919. I was curious if this is an item you may be interested in for your collection? If not sorry to have bothered you.
    Thank so much Terri

  5. Hey since this is a Montgomery Ward sight I thought I'd ask a question and see if anyone could answer it. I purchased some white standalone Montgomery shelving at one of their auction in Virginia. I like these shelves very much but can't find out where they were made of by whom. If anyone has a clue who made these or who has some to sell, let me know. Michael 757-547-2799. I have pictures if you need them