Wood, Robert E.

Wood, Robert E. (Elkington)

(1879–1969) retail executive; born in Kansas City, Mo. The son of a Kansas homesteader, he graduated from West Point and served in the army until 1915. For his last ten years in uniform he was quartermaster and eventually director of the Panama Railroad Company during the construction of the Panama Canal. During World War I he was the army's quartermaster general. He began his 30-year career with Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1924. As vice-president (1924–28), president (1928–39), and chairman (1939–54), he built Sears into the world's largest general merchandiser. Supervising the opening of Sears' first retail stores in 1925, he redirected the company's focus from mail order to chain store retail operations. He helped to establish the largest employee savings and profit-sharing pension plan in the country and formed the subsidiary Allstate Insurance Co. (1931; chairman 1939–54). A prominent Republican, he strongly supported Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist campaign in the 1950s, led the America First Committee, and cofounded what became the Manion Forum for the propagation of arch-conservative political views (1954).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.