(Now Macy’s) and the inspiration for Selfridges in London
At the turn of the 20th century, Chicago, a capitalist dreamland, was a place where dreams could come true. Marshall Field (1834-1906) is the manifestation of that idea. Born on a farm in Massachusetts, Field moved to Chicago to make something of himself. He started off working as a clerk in a dry goods store, and worked his way up to owning the most influential department store of his day, and the largest retail center in the world. An innovator in customer service, he coined such phrases as “give the lady what she wants” and “the customer is always right.” He had the first “money-back guarantee,” bridal registry, and free delivery service. His store was the first to have in-store bathrooms, food service, animated window displays, and escalators. Clearly Field saw it to his advantage to have every amenity available that might help keep women in his store all day, every day. And it worked. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Outliers, Field remains the 34th richest man in world history in current US dollars (Bill Gates is 37th). At the time of his death, Marshall Field owned more property than anyone else in the country (much of which was in Chicago).
The Marshall Field’s Company has gone through many alterations since its conception in 1868 as the Field, Leiter and Company (with Potter Palmer as a silent partner). Upon Levi Leiter’s retirement in 1881, it officially became Marshall Field & Company. The building itself has also gone through a number of changes over the years, the most significant being its razing in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire (and another fire in 1877). The 9 story building which stands today on an entire city block was built in parts between 1893 and 1914, designed by Daniel Burnham and Company. Burnham designed a classic Chicago School style building. Typical of the style, it is visually divided into thirds, has a skeletal frame, big Chicago windows, and minimal ornamentation. In 1887, Harry Gordon Selfridge was appointed to lead the retail store and headed it as it evolved into a modern department store. In the midst of all this work to build the State Street retail store, Selfridge resigned abruptly from the company in 1904, buying rival Schlesinger & Mayer, before selling it only three months later. Schlesinger & Mayer in 1899 had commissioned the Louis Sullivan-designed building now known as the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building, which is the firm to which Selfridge sold the business. After trying retirement, he went on to establish Selfridges in London.
The building’s only noteworthy exterior ornaments are also its icons: two massive bronze clocks weighing more than seven tons each (1907). Marshall Field first installed a clock on the building’s northwest corner in 1897 to encourage promptness when he noticed that many were using the corner as a meeting spot.
The Marshall Field and Company Building at State and Washington Streets in Chicago was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is part of the Loop Retail National Historic District. The building was designated a Chicago Landmark on November 1, 2005. With approximately two million square feet of available floor space, the building is the second-largest department store in the United States.
Marshall Field’s & Company was acquired by Macy’s, Inc., on August 30, 2005 and renamed in September 2006. The State Street store became a Flagship Macy’s.