John Wanamaker’s store brings electric light

The next time you are out visiting a Macy’s department store, take a good look around, and give thanks John Wanamaker who made it happen. Wanamaker’s store was bought by Macy’s twenty years ago, but in its century or so of existence it pioneered the concept of the large retail establishment, a department store. Wanamaker set out to create an American equivalent to London’s Royal Exchange or Paris’ Les Halles, a large, upscale establishment, bringing together under one roof anything a person might need. But he went one step further than the European markets, creating amenities never before seen anywhere.

On this day, December 26, in 1878, John Wanamaker brought electric lighting to his store in Philadelphia, the first ever department store to do so. The following year Wanamaker brought the telephone to the store.

Wanamaker’s stores catered to an upper-middle class, advertising a focus on quality. Materials were guaranteed to be high quality, but customers who were not satisfied could bring back their purchase for a refund – an unheard-of concept at the time. A pious man, Wanamaker refused to advertise on Sundays, and also created the first price tag: people would not haggle; the price displayed was the price paid. If all people are equal before God, he reasoned, all people should pay the same price in his stores.