Ward, Aaron Montgomery

Ward, Aaron Montgomery

(1843–1913) merchant; born in Chatham, N.J. His parents moved to Niles, Mich., where he worked odd jobs until 1865 when he moved to Chicago and clerked for Field, Palmer, & Leiter. By about 1870 as a traveling salesman for a dry goods wholesaler, he noted the disparity between the cash prices farmers received and the high cost of retail products. In 1872, with partner George Thorne, Ward put out a single-sheet catalogue of dry goods at reasonable prices and guaranteed customer satisfaction. Success was immediate—by 1876 the catalogue was 150 illustrated pages, and sales reached $1 million by 1888. With the completion of the Ward Tower in Chicago (1900), Montgomery Ward's attracted national attention, with sales of $40 million by his death. The company passed to Thorne's five sons since Ward had none. Ward's wife later bequeathed more than $8 million to Northwestern University for a medical and dental school. His foresight is credited with securing Chicago's Grant Park as a public lakefront area.