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Mail Order Catalogs

Submitted by Ray Evans

It seems that we lose something with each advancement of technology. The recent announcement of the closing of the 128 year old Montgomery Ward chain of stores brought a little sadness to my heart. They were one of the first companies to publish mail order catalogs and to operate on a policy of “Satisfaction or Your Money Back.”

When I was growing up in the Oak Hill section of Rockcastle county during the 1930’s and 40’s, the two most important books in the family besides the Bible were the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck mail order catalogs. These catalogs made accessible modern worldly goods to the remote mountain areas of Kentucky and the rest of the country. New catalogs were published twice a year. One would be issued for spring and summer and one for fall and winter. When the new ones first came out, the family members took turns looking at them. Our first reliable radio was an Airline brand dry-battery powered radio from Montomery Ward. My family enjoyed that radio for a number of years. One could fill out and mail a simple order blank and order literally thousands of items delivered by the U S Mail to your mailbox or through Railway Express. Larger items could be delivered to the nearest railway freight office. For example; everything from clothes for every family member, baby chickens, Carter family song books and phonograph records, corsets for grandma, parts for the family car, parts for farm equipment and even 3 pound packages of honey bees were available.

About 1940, I thought that I had all the education I would ever need when I managed to fill out an order blank to order some guitar strings and song books from Montgomery Ward. There must be a piece of magic about buying stuff through the mail. I looked forward to delivery of my order everyday until it arrived. I made the path to the mailbox more evident everyday. It was like Christmas all over again when my package finally arrived. It was wrapped in the familiar brown paper with a mailing label attached with my NAME on it.

Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck both issued a special Christmas catalog. The boxes of chocolates, candy and fruitcake pictures in these Christmas catalogs were very well illustrated. They certainly made your mouth water for a taste of them. My sisters and I did not need to write letters to Santa because our wishes were very evident in the catalog where our dirty little fingers had worn a spot pointing to the different toys. I always wanted one of those fancy cowboy outfits, but never got one.

Of course, the old dog-eared catalogs served a double purpose after the new ones were issued. The particular use does not deserve much discussion here, but every out-door toilet in the country with one of those little crescents of the moon cut in the door had an old torn and tattered catalog handy. Some people also used the old catalogs to make a colorful cylindrical shaped doorstop by folding the pages in an accordion style in such a way that they could be stood on end.

Oh! Sure you can send almost instant Email to your friends halfway around the world today and you can order about anything on the Internet and have it delivered by UPS to your door. There are also a number of catalogs still available. However, with the demise of the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck catalogs, we lost something that is not likely ever to come again.