Marshall Field & Company (Marshall Field’s) was a department store in Chicago, Illinois, that grew to become a major chain before being acquired by Macy’s, Inc., on August 30, 2005.
The former flagship Marshall Field and Company Building location on State Street in The Loop of downtown Chicago was officially renamed Macy’s on State Street on September 9, 2006, and is now one of four national Macy’s flagship stores—one of two within the company's Macy’s East retail division, alongside its New York store at Herald Square. Initially, the State Street store was the lead store of the Macy’s North division, immediately following the merger.
Marshall Field & Company traces its antecedents to a dry goods store opened at 137 Lake Street in Chicago in 1852 by Potter Palmer, eponymously named P. Palmer & Co.. Four years later, in 1856, 21-year-old Marshall Field moved to Chicago from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, finding work at the city’s then largest dry goods firm: Cooley, Wadsworth & Co. Just prior to the Civil War, in 1860, Field and bookkeeper Levi Leiter became junior partners in the firm, then known as Cooley, Farwell & Co. In 1864 the firm, then led by senior partner John V. Farwell, was renamed Farwell, Field & Co. only for Field and Leiter to soon withdraw from the partnership when presented with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Potter Palmer, plagued by ailing health, was looking to dispose of his thriving business, so on January 4, 1865, Field and Leiter entered into partnership with him and his brother Milton Palmer. P. Palmer & Co. became Field, Palmer, Leiter & Co., with Palmer financing much of their initial capital as well as his own contribution. After Field and Leiter’s success enabled them to pay him back, Palmer withdrew from the partnership in 1867 to focus on his growing real-estate interests on State Street. His brother, Milton, left at this time as well. The store was renamed Field, Leiter & Co., sometimes referred to as “Field & Leiter”.
The buyout, however, did not bring an end to Potter Palmer’s association with the firm. In 1868, Palmer convinced Field and Leiter to lease a new, six-story edifice he had built at the northeast corner of State and Washington streets. The store was soon referred to as the “Marble Palace” due to its costly marble face.
The Great Chicago Fire
On Sunday evening, Oct. 8, 1871, a fire broke out on the west side of the city, and with high winds, quickly got out of control, becoming the Great Chicago Fire. When news of this major conflagration reached company officials Henry Willing and Levi Leiter, they decided to load as much of the expensive merchandise as possible onto wagons and take it to Leiter’s home, which was out of the path of the fire. The company’s drivers and teams were ordered out of the barns. Horace B. Parker, a young salesman, rushed to the store’s basement, broke up boxes, and built a fire in the boiler so that the steam elevators could be operated. These employees worked feverishly through the night to remove vital records and valuable goods to safety.
At one point, the gas tank exploded, which put out the store’s lights. The men worked on by candlelight and the glow from the approaching flames. The employees got enough steam up to operate the store’s powerful pumps in the basement, and volunteers went to the roof and used the store's fire hoses to wet down the roof and the wall on the side of the oncoming fire. Early in the morning however, the city's waterworks burned, thus ending the water supply and making further efforts useless. The last employee had scarcely made it out of the building when it burst into flames, shooting fire from every window.
The store burned to the ground. However, as a result of the employees' herculean efforts, so much merchandise was saved that the store was able to reopen in only a few weeks (the Wholesale Department on Oct. 28, and the Retail Department on Nov. 6) in a temporary location (a horse-car barn of the Chicago City Railway Co. at State & 20th Sts.). In April 1872, Field & Leiter reopened in an unburned building at Madison and Market Streets (today's West Wacker Drive). Parker stayed with the company for 45 years, rising to the level of General Sales Manager.
After the Great Fire
In October 1873, Field and Leiter returned to State Street, opening in a new five-story store at their old location they leased from Singer Sewing Machine Company, Palmer having sold the site to finance his own rebuilding activities. This store was expanded in 1876, only to be destroyed by fire again in November 1877. Ever tenacious, Field and Leiter had a new temporary store opened by the end of the month at a lakefront exposition hall they leased from the city, located at what is now the site of the Art Institute of Chicago. Meanwhile the Singer company had speculatively built a new, even larger, six-story building on the ruins of their old store, which, after some contention, was personally bought by Field and Leiter. Field, Leiter & Co. reclaimed their traditional location at the northeast corner of State and Washington for the last time in April 1879.
Marshall Field's Wholesale Store around 1890
In January 1881, Field, with the support of his junior partners, bought Levi Leiter , renaming the business Marshall Field & Co.. As Palmer had before, Leiter retired to tend his significant real estate investments, which included commissioning a department store building at State Street and Van Buren to house Siegel, Cooper & Co.. In 1932, this building was leased to mail-order firm Sears, Roebuck & Co.
In 1887, the landmark seven-story Henry Hobson Richardson-designed Marshall Field's Wholesale Store opened on Franklin Street between Quincy and Adams. Though little remembered today, the wholesale division sold merchandise in bulk to smaller merchants throughout the central and western United States and at that time did six times the sales volume of the retail store. Chicago's location at the center of the country's railroads and Great Lakes shipping made it the center of the dry goods wholesaling business by the 1870s, with Field's former partner John V. Farwell being his largest rival. It was the scale of the profits generated by the John G. Shedd-led wholesale division during this time that made Marshall Field the richest man in Chicago and one of the richest in the country.
State Street store
Following the departure of Leiter, the retail store began to grow in importance. Though it continued to remain a fraction of the size of the wholesale division, its opulent building and luxurious merchandise helped differentiate Marshall Field's from the other wholesale dry goods merchants in town. In 1887, Harry Gordon Selfridge was appointed to lead the retail store and headed it as it evolved into a modern department store. That same year, Field personally obtained Leiter's remaining interest in the 1879 Singer building and in 1888 started buying the buildings adjoining his for additional floor space. Marshall Field also had a child at this time.
The clock at Marshall Field's State Street store.
In 1892, the structures between the 1879 building and Wabash Avenue to the east were demolished and D.H. Burnham & Company was commissioned to erect a new building in anticipation of the influx of visitors from the World's Columbian Exposition. The nine-story "Annex" at the northwest corner of Wabash and Washington was opened under the direction of Burnham associate Charles B. Atwood in August 1893, towards the end of the exposition. In 1897, the old 1879 store was rebuilt and had two additional floors added, while the first of Marshall Field's Great Clocks was installed at the corner of Washington and State Streets on November 26.
In 1901, Marshall Field & Company was incorporated, converting from a private partnership. Spurred on by Selfridge, Marshall Field razed the three buildings north of it which had been occupied since 1888, as well as the Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan-designed 1879 Central Music Mall at the southeast corner of State and Randolph in 1901. In their place rose a massive, twelve-story building fronting on State Street in 1902, including a grand new entrance. In 1906, a third new building opened on Wabash Avenue north of the 1893 structure, which by then had become the oldest part of the store.
In the midst of all this work to build the State Street retail store, Selfridge resigned abruptly from the company in 1904, buying rival Schlesinger & Mayer, before selling it only three months later. Schlesinger & Mayer in 1899 had commissioned the Louis Sullivan-designed building now known as the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building, which is the firm to which Selfridge sold the business. After trying retirement, he went on to establish Selfridges in London.
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