Richard W. Sears

Quick Facts

Name: Richard Warren Sears.

Birth Date: December 7, 1863.

Death Date: September 28, 1914. .

Place of Birth: Stewartville, Minnesota.

Place of Death: Waukesha, Wisconsin. (17)

Quote: "If you buy a good watch you will always be satisfied, and at our prices a good watch will influence the sale of another good watch; and that's our motto: Make a Watch, Sell a Watch." - Richard W. Sears (18)


Richard Warren Sears was born on December 7, 1863, in Stewartville, Minnesota. Early in Richard's life, the family resided in Spring Valley and Mankato, Minnesota. Richard's father worked as a blacksmith and wagon-maker. At one time richard's father was quite prosperous, but lost a significant amount of money in a bad farm venture. As a result, Richard found it necessary to seek employment in order to help support the family. Richard began studying telegraphy. Once mastered, he found employment as a station agent for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad in North Redwood, Minnesota . (19)

In 1886, Richard stumbled upon a local jeweler who refused a distribution of watches. “A shipment of gold-filled pocket watches from a Chicago manufacturer was refused by a Minnesota retailer. This was becoming a common practice. Wholesalers would ship their products to retailers that had not ordered the items. Upon refusal, the wholesaler would offer the already price-hiked items to the retailer at a lower consignment cost in the guise of alleviating the cost to ship the items back. The unsuspecting retailer would then agree to take this new found bargain off of the wholesaler's hands, mark up the items and sell them to the public, making a small profit in the transaction.” (20) Facing financial hardship, Richard looked to increase his income and asked permission to sell the watches. With permission granted, it wasn't long before Richard sold all the watches to his fellow station agents. (21)

During the next six months, Richard netted $5,000 and established a watch business that brought such success that he left his job with the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. In 1886, at the age of 22, Richard relocated to Minneapolis to focus exclusively on the R.W. Sears Watch Company, the mail-order business he established that year. Richard focused intently on promotional advertising, placing ads in farm publications in order to reach rural customers. (22)

One year after Richard began his business, he joined with Alvah C. Roebuck, a watch repairman. Not only was Roebuck the first employee, he became co-founder of Sears, Roebuck and Co. In 1895, he joined with Julius Rosenwald, key financier, future president, and chairman. (23)

Richard retired from his enterprise due to poor health in 1908. Six years later, on September 28, 1914, Richard passed away, leaving behind a company that had grown to annual sales of $40 million. (24)

“To this day, Sears' advertising and promotional skills remain legendary, and today's most sophisticated marketer's continue to employ the tried and true concepts that Sears made famous.” (25)

Alvah C. Roebuck

Julius Rosenwald

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Chicago Department Stores & Retail Entrepreneurs