Before Amazon: Mail Order Shopping in America

Before people bought online, through services such as Amazon, they used mail order.  During this time, shoppers browsed printed catalogs. They selected products and mailed in order forms with their money. After a few weeks, exciting packages arrived. The Montgomery Ward catalog was the first of its kind in 1878. Since the beginning, local retailers found mail order threatening. This spurred 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.  Does this sound familiar? Despite aggressive anti-mail-order campaigns, catalog 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 catalogs using artifacts from the Appalachian Studies Teaching Collection.

Dates Shown: June 15, 2017 to May 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