Crowds packed the sidewalks and streets on this date to watch Chicago's high society pour into Marshall Field's first store on State Street, a grand marble edifice with Corinthian columns. As was frequently the case, Marshall Field was on hand to welcome customers to the store that, more than any other emporium, would establish State Street as Chicago's premier shopping district.
By 1868, Field's store was already a civic institution. Field had come to Chicago in 1856 at age 21 from Massachusetts, where he had been a dry-goods clerk in a country store. He was polite and earnest, if somewhat taciturn. Field immediately got a job in a Chicago dry-goods store, where he listened to his customers, talked knowledgeably about the merchandise and was helpful without being unctuous. These were rare qualities among the shopkeepers of the time.Field and his partner, financial wizard Levi Z. Leiter, bought the enormously profitable Lake Street dry-goods business of Potter Palmer in 1865, and three years later, they moved into the marble store, which Palmer had built as part of his effort to improve grimy State Street. Field often stood inside the door and bowed to society ladies and bargain-hunters alike as they entered. Encountering a manager arguing with a customer one day, he uttered the admonition that was to become the store's unofficial motto: "Give the lady what she wants." He endeared the store to the public by following the then-remarkable policy of allowing returns.
"When the public goes abroad, it boasts of Field, Leiter and Company just as it does of the Stock Yards," a Tribune editorial gushed in 1881, shortly before Field bought out Leiter and the store became Marshall Field and Co.
Marshall Field died in 1906, but not before he approved the construction of a new store on State Street, which opened the next year. Since then, countless people have met under the store's great clock or made annual pilgrimages with their families to lunch under the Christmas tree in the cavernous Walnut Room.
The era of Chicago ownership ended in 1982 when Marshall Field and Co. was bought by a British company, which later sold it to Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson Corp. It seems unlikely that any modern corporate executive ever will inspire the kind of tribute that a young magazine writer, Theodore Dreiser, paid to Marshall Field. This "celebrated Western merchant," Dreiser wrote, "is an example to be studied with profit by every farm boy, by every office boy, by every clerk and artisan--yes, and by every middle-aged business man, whether going along smoothly or confronted by apparently ruinous circumstances, throughout our broad land."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times