Wanamaker, John

Wanamaker, John

(wŏn`əmā'kər), 1838–1922, American merchant, b. Philadelphia. He went into the men's clothing business in Philadelphia with Nathan Brown, his brother-in-law, in 1861. The firm was Wanamaker and Brown until the death of Brown in 1868, and from 1869 it was John Wanamaker and Company. In 1875, Wanamaker bought the site of the old Pennsylvania RR freight station and opened a new dry goods and clothing store, which later became one of the first and best-known department stores. He was Postmaster General (1889–93) in Benjamin Harrison's cabinet and greatly improved the efficiency of the service. He extended his business into New York City in 1896, when he took over the store which had formerly been A. T. Stewart and Company. He was identified with religious work in Philadelphia, as a paid secretary (1857–61) and later president (1870–83) of the Young Men's Christian Association and as superintendent of the Bethany Presbyterian Sunday School for many years.

Bibliography

See biographies by H. A. Gibbons (1926) and J. H. Appel (1970).

Wanamaker, John

(1838–1922) merchant; born in Philadelphia. After a few years as secretary of the Philadelphia Young Men's Christian Association, he and his new brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, opened a men's clothing store called "Oak Hall" (1861). In 1869, a year after Brown's death, Wanamaker opened the more fashionable John Wanamaker & Company; he turned this store over to his brothers to manage when in 1876, in time for the centennial, he opened the "Grand Depot," a huge dry goods and men's clothing store located in a former Pennsylvania Railroad depot. Unable to attract other merchants to open shop under his roof, in 1877 he opened a number of "specialty shops' that flourished after a year. He expanded into New York City (1896) and continued enlarging his innovative "department" stores. He advertised effectively in newspapers and implemented a money-back customer guarantee. An enthusiastic Presbyterian and Republican, he founded the Bethany Sunday School (1858), supported temperance and the Pennsylvania Blue Laws, and unsuccessfully ran for various political offices. He required military drill of his male clerks and offered to release them for service during the Spanish-American War and World War I, but he provided business classes and benefits for his employees. As a reward for his support of Benjamin Harrison, he was made Postmaster General (1889) and introduced several improvements.
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John, who has been married four times, went on to join the RSC as an assistant director in 1977, directing actors from Ben Kingsley to Zo Wanamaker, John Thaw, Pete Postlethwaite and Daniel Day-Lewis for 13 years.
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