John Wanamaker (1838–1922) was an American merchant, postmaster general, and philanthropist. He was a beloved figure in Philadelphia society—his 1922 funeral was a major public occasion; Thomas Edison was among his pallbearers.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wanamaker spent most of his life in retailing, starting at age thirteen as an errand boy for a bookstore. He opened a men’s clothing store in 1861 and expanded it into Grand Depot, Philadelphia’s first department store, which he believed was the future of shopping. This “new kind of store” was a consolidation of many different kinds of shops into one.
Wanamaker’s department stores become very successful and set off a merchandising revolution that steered people away from the general store format. Wanamaker stores were the first to have restaurants, restrooms, electricity, elevators, pneumatic tubes, and a discount “downstairs” store.
An early pioneer of marketing and professional advertising, Wanamaker introduced frequent sales and issued full-page illustrated newspaper ads. Caring deeply about his employees’ welfare, he introduced company pension funds and paid vacations.
Wanamaker served as the US postmaster general 1889–93 under President Benjamin Harrison. During his tenure, he advocated such populist policies as parcel post, rural free delivery, and postal savings banks. The post office also issued its first commemorative stamps honoring the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition. Wanamaker also served as president of the YMCA 1870–83.
Wanamaker was a devout evangelical Christian and gave much of his time and money to Presbyterian churches, the Civil War Christian Commission, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army.
No mistake or failure is as bad as to stop and not try again.