Before Amazon: Mail Order Shopping in America

Before people bought online, they used mail order. Shoppers browsed printed catalogues, selected products, and mailed order forms along with money. After a few weeks, exciting packages arrived. It began in 1878 with the Montgomery Ward Catalogue. From the start, local retailers found mail order threatening, spurring America’s first “Buy Local” Movement. Local merchants claimed to provide better service, quality control, and to keep money in the community. Mail order merchants claimed to offer lower prices, better selection, and privacy. Sound familiar? Despite aggressive anti-mail-order campaigns, catalogue selling grew into a huge part of the American economy. It transformed shopping, especially in places like rural Appalachia where local shopping options were few.  This exhibit explores the kinds of things people bought from mail order catalogues using artifacts from the Appalachian Studies Teaching Collection.

Dates Showing: June 15, 2017 to approximately June 15, 2018

Location: In the foyer of the Frost Building on the Berea College Campus

Curators: Shadia Prater (’17) and Katherine Dunn (’17) assisted by Leander Keim, and Magenta Palo

Before Amazon Case No.1