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John Wanamaker

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A portrait of John Wanamaker.John Wanamaker (July 11, 1838 - December 12, 1922) was a United States businessman, civic and political figure, considered the father of the department store and the father of modern advertising. Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He opened his first store in 1861, called "Oak Hall" at Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. It was on the site of George Washington's Philadelphia home as President. Oak hall grew substantially based on Wanamaker's revolutionary new principals: "One price and goods returnable". In 1869, he opened his second store at 818 Chestnut Street and capitalizing on his own name (the untimely death of his brother-in-law), and growing reputation, renamed the company John Wanamaker & Co. In 1875 he purchased an abandoned railroad depot and converted it into a large store, called John Wanamaker & Co. "The Grand Depot". Wanamaker's is generally considered the first department store.

He opened his first New York store in New York City in 1896, continuing a mercantile business started by A.T. Stewart, and continued to expand his business abroad with the European Houses of Wanamaker in London and Paris.

A larger store in Philadelphia was then designed by famous architect Daniel H. Burnham, and the 12-story granite "Wanamaker Building" was completed in 1910 on the site of "The Grand Depot", encompassing an entire block at the corner of Thirteenth and Market Streets across from Philadelphia's City Hall. The new store, which still stands today, was dedicated by US President William Howard Taft, and houses the world's largest instrument, the Wanamaker Organ, and the 2,500-pound bronze "Wanamaker Eagle" in the store's Grand Court, which became a famous meeting place for Philadelphians simply saying, "Meet me at the Eagle." The Wanamaker building and the Grand Court became a Philadelphia institution.

Wanamaker was an innovator, creative in his work, and a merchandising and advertising genius, though modest and with an enduring reputation for honesty. He gave his employees free medical care, education, recreational facilities, pensions and profit-sharing plans before such benefits were considered standard.

In 1889 Wanamaker began the First Penny Savings Bank in order to encourage thrift. That same year he was appointed United States Postmaster General by President Benjamin Harrison. Wanamaker was credited with introducing the first commemorative stamp, and many efficiencies to the Postal Service. He was the first to make plans for free rural postal service in the United States, although the plan was not implemented until 1897.[1]

At his death in 1922, his estate was estimated to be $100 million (USD), divided equally between his three living children: son Rodman Wanamaker who was made sole inheritor of the store businesses (Rodman died in 1928 leaving the businesses with a documented worth of $35 million in a trust); and daughters Mary "Minnie" Wanamaker Warburton (Mrs. Barclay Warburton) and Elizabeth Wanamaker McLeod who both received substantial stocks, real estate, and cash instruments. Son Rodman Wanamaker is credited with founding The PGA of America, and the Millrose Games.

John Wanamaker owned homes in Philadelphia, Cape May Point, NJ, New York, Florida, London, Paris, and Biarritz. One was his city townhouse at 2032 Walnut Street, which was modeled similar to an English manor house. His other house was the Lindenhurst mansion in Cheltenham on York Road, below Washington Lane. A station - Chelten Hills (below Jenkintown) - was constructed in addition to his vast mansion. A family trust owned the Wanamaker's store chain, run by trustees appointed by Rodman Wanamaker's will, until 1978 when the business was sold to Carter Hawley Hale, Inc.

John Wanamaker was a Pennsylvania Mason. The John Wanamaker Masonic Humanitarian Medal was created by resolution of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania at the December Quarterly Communication of 1993. It is to be awarded to a person (male or female) who, being a non-Mason, supports the ideals and philosophy of the Masonic Fraternity. The recipient of this medal is one who personifies the high ideals of John Wanamaker - a public spirited citizen, a lover of all people and devoter of doing good. The award is made at the discretion of the R. W. Grand Master. The medal has been presented sparingly, to maintain the great prestige associated with an award created by resolution of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge. In addition to the John Wanamaker Masonic Humanitaria Medal, The Pennsylvania Grand Lodge also awards the Franklin Medal for Distinguished Masonic Service, and the Thomson Award for Saving a Human Life.