"The Book of Bargains"
In 1888, Richard Sears
started mailing out a flyer
to advertise watches and jewelry.
What began as a small flyer
soon grew into a larger catalog.
In 1894, he illustrated the cover with
a slogan saying, Book of Bargains:
A Money Saver for Everyone.
It expanded to include saddles,
bicycles, buggies, sewing machines,
musical instruments, clothing, and more.
Especially popular were the sections
that offered craft supplies and tools
not always available locally.
Mr. Sears wrote the descriptions
to appeal to crafters everywhere,
using everyday language that
appealed to his customers.
After everything had been
ordered and received,
the catalog took on
a new purpose.
People tore out pages
and used them to wrap
the gifts in colorful paper.
Over time, the catalog
and the company evolved.
They went from offering
individual tools and supplies
to kits, which soon proved
People even pooled
their resources to buy
the famous house kits.
Sears Modern Homes let
shoppers buy a standard kit,
customize it for their needs,
or even design from scratch.
They took advantage of
new building materials like
asphalt shingles and drywall.
These made it possible for
more customers to achieve
the American dream of building
their own home by simplifying
the process and reducing
the need to hire experts.
It was a perfect balance
between handmade crafts
Always attentive to
his customers, Mr. Sears
noticed that not everyone had
room for a home workshop.
Apartment dwellers might
not even have space for
a simple sewing corner.
So the company launched
the Sears Community Workshops.
Any town could set aside a space
where citizens could come and work
using shared tools and supplies
for a monthly membership fee.
The catalog added kits of tools
to stock workshops of varying sizes,
along with big bundles of supplies
available by regular subscription
without the need to reorder often.
These sales brought in more revenue,
becoming a mainstay of the line.
In 1908, Richard Sears retired,
having guided his company
for almost twenty years, so
he could relax and enjoy life.
The company and the catalog
went on without him, by now
well established in American life.
They continued their innovations,
quickly picking up new tools and
technologies as those emerged.
In 1952, the Sears catalog added
the MADDIDA differential analyzer
for scientists and engineers, which
sold mainly to universities and labs.
Ever watchful of the average consumer,
however, they followed up in 1953
with Little Simon, a relay computer
that could be built for $300, half
the cost of the Simon 1 design
published in Radio Electronics.
As more people became interested
in building computers, however,
a problem emerged: they weren't
compatible with other crafts.
Sawdust from woodworking,
oil machinery, even loose threads
from fibercrafts could all kill a computer.
Clearly they needed their own workshops.
So Sears introduced the new Computer Cave,
a workshop especially for people who wished
to build computers. At first they only appeared
in the largest cities, but as computer construction
became more popular, the caves spread farther.
Like the Sears Modern Homes, customers
could buy a standard kit, customize it, or
design a computer from loose parts.
To satisfy everyone's desire for
beauty as well as practicality while
keeping the delicate components safe,
the catalog included a wide variety of
manufactured fittings and frames.
Customers could order blanks
to carve or paint as they wished,
or send patterns to be tooled in
the well-equipped Sears factories.
Universities jumped on the opportunity
to build machines to their specifications.
Before long, many of them had added
a Computer Cave on campus and
a major in Computer Engineering.
Sears also became the first company
to combine computers with construction
in the form of their Sears Smart Homes.
These new designs included innovations
such as automated lighting and heating,
ensconced in elegant wooden panels,
which saved customers a lot of money.
There was even a discount program
for upgrading previous house kits.
As the technology progressed,
high schools began to include
Computer Construction alongside
traditional Shop and Art classes.
America might have embraced
the Computer Age, but it never
forgot its roots in Arts and Crafts.
* * *
The Sears catalog dates back to 1888, when Richard Sears first sent out a flyer advertising watches and jewelry. It soon expanded to many other products. It even sold houses.
MADDIDA was an early computer helpful for calculating equations used by scientists, engineers, and other experts.
janetmiles also notes that the Sears catalog allowed black people to buy anything they wanted, at a time when shopkeepers and crafters often refused to serve them. I'll add that the same is true of Chinese people, women -- especially single women -- and anyone else society chose to snub. Money and mail order made great equalizers, and that had a huge impact on America's evolution.