If you were in the market for a watch in 1880, would
you know where to get one? You would go to a store,
right? Well, of course you could do that, but if you
wanted one that was cheaper and a bit better than
most of the store watches, you went to the train
station! Sound a bit funny? Well, for about 500 towns
across the northern United States , that's where the
best watches were found.
Why were the best watches found at the train station?
The railroad company wasn't selling the watches, not
at all The telegraph operator was. Most of the time the
telegraph operator was located in the railroad station
because the telegraph lines followed the railroad
tracks from town to town. It was usually the shortest
distance and the right-of-ways had already been
secured for the rail line.
Most of the station agents were also skilled telegraph
operators and that was the primary way that they
communicated with the railroad. They would know
when trains left the previous station and when they
were due at their next station. And it was the telegraph
operator who had the watches. As a matter of fact they
sold more of them than almost all the stores combined
for a period of about 9 years.
This was all arranged by "Richard", who was a telegraph
operator himself. He was on duty in the North Redwood,
Minnesota train station one day when a load of watches
arrived from the East. It was a huge crate of pocket
watches. No one ever came to claim them.
So Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer and
asked them what they wanted to do with the watches.
The manufacturer didn't want to pay the freight back, so
they wired Richard to see if he could sell them. So
Richard did. He sent a wire to every agent in the system
asking them if they wanted a cheap, but good, pocket
watch. He sold the entire case in less than two days
and at a handsome profit.
That started it all. He ordered more watches from the
watch company and encouraged the telegraph operators
to set up a display case in the station offering high quality
watches for a cheap price to all the travelers. It worked! It
didn't take long for the word to spread and, before long,
people other than travelers came to the train station to
Richard became so busy that he had to hire a professional
watch maker to help him with the orders. That was Alvah.
And the rest is history as they say.
The business took off and soon expanded to many other
lines of dry goods.
Richard and Alvah left the train station and moved their
company to Chicago -- and it's still there.
Yes, itís a little known fact that for a while in the 1880's,
the biggest watch retailer in the country was at the train
station. It all started with a telegraph operator: Richard
Sears and his partner Alvah Roebuck.
Today is the oldest you've ever been, yet the youngest you'll ever be, so enjoy this day while it lasts.