Sears, Roebuck & Company, which filed for bankruptcy last year, started its life as a mail-order firm in 1892, the Amazon of its time.
The early success of the company is often attributed to its co-founder’s copywriting skills. Richard Warren Sears was a railroad station agent in Minnesota when in 1886 his station received an unsolicited shipment of gold watches for a local jeweler, who refused it. Sears saw an opportunity and agreed with the wholesaler to sell them himself, in six months making a profit larger than his railroad salary. He then founded the company to sell watches and jewelry via advertisements in publications and by mailing flyers, and later started a catalog, for which Sears wrote every line of copy. He retired in 1908, but the tradition of good copywriting continued, helping the company become the largest retailer in the world.