Briefly Noted: Marketplace of Ideas


In 1872, traveling salesman Aaron Montgomery Ward experimented with mail order catalogs to sell products directly to his rural customers, lowering prices by removing the middleman at the general store. Today, the mail order industry he founded is worth $100 billion. The Montgomery Ward Catalog alone is responsible for such marketing innovations as the phrase "Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back" and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who was first created for a 1939 Christmas promotion.

In Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail-Order Shopping (Princeton Architectural Press), Robin Cherry tells the remarkable story of how entrepreneurs such as Ward and his longtime rival Richard Sears revolutionized and individualized the American marketplace. They allowed us to shape our consumption and identity in privacy, without getting off the couch. "Mail order catalogs" Cherry writes, "show us how we lived—even if we did so in space-dyed Orlon pullovers and knee-high polyurethane boot socks from the Sears Catalog of 1971."