Historical Perspective: Cataloging’s Early Years
In the wake of Kmart’s recent merger with Sears, we thought you’d enjoy this nostalgic look back at what it was like to work for a catalog pioneer during its heyday. —Editors
As American business was getting back on its feet after World War II, I entered a career adventure with one of the world’s largest catalogers, Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Since all my associates in 1948 were more than twice as old as I, that means I’m the last survivor of the company’s catalog creative division from that era. Here’s a look back at what catalog creation was like in those bygone days.
“I started at the bottom”
Back then I was recently graduated and needed a job. Moreover, I was competing with millions of military veterans for those jobs. My mother had a friend who was secretary to the head of Sears’ catalog production at its Homan and Arthington Streets national headquarters in Chicago. It was a huge complex that stretched for almost four blocks and could be traveled through via tunnels and warehouse passages.
I started work at the bottom, bringing catalog-page materials jackets to the merchandise departments for their writers. Back then, writers were embedded in individual departments rather than working in one group. The jackets contained reference materials on the products for each page for 11 catalogs, some as large as 1,200 pages. The jackets made their way from the creative division, where layouts were developed based on space allocations determined by each department’s sales manager and buyers, to the type-markup department across the aisle.
With so many product departments, it was a great chance for me to learn not only their numbers and product lines, but the people in each. For example, plumbing was department 632, and Zula Estes was its copywriter.