The Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog House,was the heart of Montgomery Ward's operations.Founded as the world's first mail order business in 1872 by Aaron Montgomery Ward,In 1883, the company's catalog, which became popularly known as the "Wish Book". After World War II, Montgomery Ward had become the third-largest department store chain. In the 1950s, the company was slow to respond to general movement of the American middle class to suburbia. While its old rivals Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's, McRae's, and Dillard's established new anchor outlets in the growing number of suburban shopping malls, the top executives thought such moves as too expensive, sticking to their downtown and main street stores until the company had lost too much market share to compete with its rivals. Its catalog business had begun to slip by the 1960s. In 1968, it merged with Container Corporation of America to become Marcor Inc.
During the 1970s, the company continued to flounder. In 1976, it was acquired by Mobil Oil, which was flush with cash from the recent rise in oil prices. In 1985, the company closed its catalog business after 113 years and began an aggressive policy of renovation of the remaining stores. The renovations centered on restructuring many of the store layouts into boutique-like speciality stores. In 1988, the company management undertook a successful $3.8 billion leveraged buyout, making Montgomery Ward a privately held company.
The exterior of a typical Jefferson Ward discount department store, which opened 1980-82
In 1987, it began a push into consumer electronics using the "Electric Avenue" name. Montgomery Ward greatly expanded their electronics presence by shifting from a predominantly private label mix to an assortment dominated by Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi, Panasonic, JVC, and other national brands. This strategy was led by V.P. Vic Sholis, who later became President of the Tandy Name Brand Retail Group. (McDuff, VideoConcepts, and Incredible Universe) Seemingly on the right track for a rebound in marketshare, in the late 1980s and early 1990s Montgomery Ward was one of the hottest retail chains in the country. 1994 brought a 94% increase in revenues, largely due to Ward's tremendously successful direct-marketing arms. For a short while Wards was also back in the mail-order business, through "Montgomery Ward Direct", a mail order business licensed to the catalog giant "Fingerhut". But by the mid 1990s sales margins were eroded even further in the competitive electronics and appliance hardlines, which traditionally were Ward's strongest lines.
The company also spun off Jefferson Ward (known as "Jeffersons"), a short-lived discount department store version of Montgomery Ward which had the same concepts as most discount department stores. The chain was discontinued in 1988, and most locations were converted into Bradlees stores.
In 1994, it acquired the now-defunct New England retail chain Lechmere.By the 1990s, however, even its old rivals had begun to lose ground to low-price competition from Kmart, Target, and especially Wal-Mart, which stripped away even more of Montgomery Ward's old customer base. In 1997, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, emerging from bankruptcy court protection in August 1999 as a wholly owned subsidiary of GE Capital, by then its largest shareholder. As part of a last-ditch effort to remain competitive, the company closed 250 retail locations in 30 U.S. states, closed all the Lechmere stores, abandoned the speciality store strategy, renamed and rebranded the chain as simply Wards (although unrelated, Wards was the original name for the now-defunct Circuit City), and spent millions of dollars to renovate its remaining outlets to be flashier and more consumer-friendly. But GE reneged on promises of further financial support of Wards' restructuring plans.In December 28, 2000, the company, after lower-than-expected sales during the Christmas season, announced it was going out of business and would close its remaining 250 retail outlets and lay off its 37,000 employees. All the stores closed within weeks of the announcement. The subsequent liquidation was at the time the largest retail bankruptcy liquidation in U.S. history. It went out of business in may 2001.Montgomery Ward brand was revived as an online and catalog-based retailer headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late 2004, when Direct Marketing Services Inc. purchased much of the intellectual property assets of the former Wards, reviving the brand as an online retailer with no physical stores. In 2008, ownership changed over to Swiss Colony in Monroe, Wisconsin.
The company does not currently operate any retail stores.
n June, 2004, an online retailer was created which sells the same products as the former brand. The company does not currently operate any retail stores. Key "Montgomery Ward" and "Wards" trademarks were purchased by Iowa-based direct marketing company Direct Marketing Services Inc. (DMSI), a catalog marketer, for an undisclosed amount of money.
In July 2008, it was announced that DMSI was on the auction block, with an auction scheduled for August 2008. Catalog retailer Swiss Colony purchased DMSI on August 5, 2008. Swiss Colony has announced that it will keep the Montgomery Ward catalog division open. The Web site launched on September 10, 2008, with new catalogs mailing in February 2009. A month before the catalogs' launch, Swiss Colony President John Baumann told United Press International the retailer might also resurrect Wards' Signature and Powr-Kraft store brands.
MANUFACTURED BY: WARDS (MONTGOMERY WARD) CHICAGO, IL U.S.A.
DISPLACEMENT:5.8 cu. in.
CONSTRUCTION:Sand cast magnesium
Engine:Tecumseh Power Products AH-58 engine