Mr. Selfridge #JusJoJan

Ritu will no doubt be chagrined with the direction I take her prompt for today, “self.” I’m not going to use it as an excuse to talk about myself, not that that’s ever a problem for me. No, I’m going to talk about department stores and one man who started one, Harry Gordon Selfridge.

Harry Gordon Selfridge. Source: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Harry was born in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1858. Harry’s father was a major in the Army duuring the Civil War, but abandoned his family after the war, leaving his mother Lois to raise their three sons. Two of the sons died young, leaving Harry and Lois by themselves. They had a very close relationship, and Lois lived with Harry the rest of her life.

He got a job with Leonard Field in his dry-goods store when he was 12. After leaving school at 14, he worked at several different jobs, and when he was 17 Field wrote him a letter of introduction to Marshall Field (apparently no relation), senior partner at Field, Leiter & Co., which eventually became Marshall Field & Company (where I first saw Mary 100 years later). Selfridge started as a stock boy and, over the next 25 years, rose to be a partner in the store, popularizing the slogan “The Customer Is Always Right.” (Field popularized the slogan “Give The Lady What She Wants.”) Selfridge also popularized the phrased “Only ___ More Shopping Days Until Christmas.” He married Rosalie Buckingham, of the Chicago Buckingham family (among other things, the Buckingham family is responsible for Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park).

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago. Source, Wikipedia, Public Domain

He opened his own department store in Chicago in 1904 and sold it to Carson, Pirie & Co. (Later Carson Pirie Scott & Co., another former employer, now defunct) a couple of months later, and went into retirement until 1908, when he and his wife took a trip to London and he saw that, for all its status as a commerce leader, it didn’t have a department store of the quality of Field’s. Bored with retirement, he invested £400,000 ($50 million today) and started Selfridges at the then-unfashionable west end of Oxford Street. He got prominent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to build the store.

Selfridges Department Store, Oxford Street location. Source:Wikipedia/Russ London, CC BY-SA 2.5

Harry ran the store until he retired in 1941, and died in 1947 at the age of 89. Selfridges is still going and has four locations and a website. ITV in the UK and PBS in the US created a TV series, Mr. Selfridge, that ran from 2013 to 2016, some of which can be seen on YouTube.

And now, to bring this all together, here’s Julia Roberts for Lancôme Paris. Her fragrance, “La Vie Est Belle,” is available at Selfridges.

21 thoughts on “Mr. Selfridge #JusJoJan

  1. Loretta and I “binge watched” the entire Mr. Selfridges tv series. It was very well done and tied in nicely with the facts that you discussed in this blog.

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    1. I don’t think we watched the series when it was on TV, but Mary watched it on Netflix or one of the other streaming services and said it was good. It’s interesting that the pictures I saw on Wikipedia of the inside of the store look an awful lot like Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s, but they haven’t changed the store much). I guess Selfridge tried to recreate the whole experience in London.

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  2. This was a fun read, John. My mom worked in Kaufman’s in Pittsburgh which also became part of Macy’s. I think there was a connection to Mashall Field’s before that (I think they were both part of the May Company Stores) because her employee discount was good at Marshall Fields.

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    1. Seems like it. I’ve never been there myself, but as a couple of Marshall Field’s alums, Mary and I would probably be quite comfortable there, since Selfridge modeled it after Field’s.

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  3. Awww … we now know the place where you first saw Mary 100 years later! Best part of this post.

    I found the topic to be super interesting. I remember Marshall Fields but I also remember Foley’s. Our Macy’s was formerly a Foley’s. And to this day I call it Foley’s. Now I’ll have to research to see where that store fits in. Did Marshall Field’s become Foley’s and then Macy’s or was there competition and later acquisition?? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Makes me think about Joske’s and Frost Bros. both now defunct but very big in their day. My grandma, mom and I would get dressed up to go “window” shopping and have lunch in the cafe. Now I shop by “swoop and drop” wearing sweats.

    Great job as usual. Thanks for the 411. 🙂

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    1. Field’s became Macy’s without an intermediate name change. They were part of, at one time or another, BATUS, Dayton-Hudson (which became Target), The May Company, and Federated Department Stores, which Macy’s took over. Foley’s was part of May, so that’s probably how they became Macy’s. I know, it’s making your head spin, but I think it’s interesting.

      Joske’s, according to Wikipedia, was eventually acquired by Dillard’s and all their stores were changed to Dillard’s. Frost Bros. just went out of business. Like I said, retail is an interesting business.

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  4. I have never been to the store but I am glad it is still in operation unlike Eaton’s or Sears here in Canada. Interesting about his life but I feel bad for his mom who lost so much.

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