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Retail in Chicago

Tips on research about Chicago's department stores and catalog houses

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Currently, there are three places to search for digitized images. Our online catalog, ARCHIE, contains digitized images from both the Chicago Daily News and the photography firm Hedrich-Blessing. The CHM online collection includes many images of museum collections, including clothing and occasionally other objects from Chicago's department stores. Our largest collection of images is in the portal for our Rights and Reproductions department, which includes the Daily News and Hedrich-Blessing images, along with digitized images from other collections.

Searching for images can be tricky--for example, you may want to try searches for "Marshall Field & Co*" and "Marshall Field and Co*" and "Marshall Field's" to be sure that you see all the possibilities from Field's (without too many false hits). Other store names are less complicated--"Carson, Pirie" will work, as will "Montgomery Ward*" Experiment with searching! If you find an image you like, the website provides instructions for ordering through Rights and Reproductions.


1. Do you have personnel records from any of the stores? For both Field's and Ward's, there is some biographical information on the executives. For non-executive employees, there is scattered information, such as Field's  "cashbooks," listing employee names from the turn of the 20th century and lists of employees who left the store to enter the service in World War II,  but there is no comprehensive collection of personnel records. Sometimes you can find information about individuals from checking employee publications--Field Glass for Field's and ForWard for Montgomery Ward's.

2. Are there records of individual sales of items like paintings or furniture from Field's? No, unfortunately, sales records are not part of these collections.

3. Is there information on Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer in the Ward's material? Yes, you'll see in the finding aid that boxes 71-74 have material on Rudolph; his creator, Robert May; and marketing campaigns through the years.

4. How about Christmas decorations at Field's? Yes, there are records of the Christmas displays, though they are somewhat scattered in the collection. Not every year is represented; you may not be able to find a particular display. For an overview of State Street's Christmas displays take a look at Robert Ledermann's Christmas on State St: 1940s and Beyond or Chicago's State Street Christmas Parade.

5. Do the Montgomery Ward & Co.  papers contain information on Aaron Montgomery Ward's fight to save the lakefront from development? No, this collection does not contain materials relating to this civic battle. Lois Wille's Forever Open, Clear, and Free is a good place to start on this topic.





Christmas shoppers, women with young children in their arms walking on the sidewalk in front of Marshall Field's department store on State Street.

Christmas shoppers, women with young children in their arms walking on the sidewalk in front of Marshall Field's department store on State Street.

The Marshall Field's collections are large and wonderful, but can be challenging to use.  The main collection on Marshall Field and Co. came to CHM in two parts, some donated by Target and some by Federated (Macy's); be sure to check both finding aids.  When you are in the Research Center, there is an additional paper-only finding aid for materials donated by Federated. Staff in the Research Center can give you more advice.

Enjoy the journey! You may not find exactly what you are looking for, but you'll almost certainly find an intriguing document or an interesting image.


Each catalog record includes a link to a finding aid.


Many photographs are included in the Federated and the Target collections. In addition, Marshall Field's commissioned Hedrich-Blessing to take many photographs of displays beginning in the 1930s and extending through the 1970s. These can be found by searching for the keywords "Hedrich Marshall Field*" in  ARCHIE.   Many have been digitized and can be viewed online (see box at left on Digital Images for additional information). Others require a visit to the Research Center (NOTE: If the images are color, we need 48 hours advance notice. Email us at


A subject search in ARCHIE for "Marshall Field*" limited to "books and serials only" brings up 100+ results, including guidebooks published by the store, secondary source histories, etc.  These can be viewed in the Research Center.

Although Field's was not thought of as a catalog store, a subject search for Marshall Field & Company -- Catalogs will bring up records for a number of publications, including Fashions of the Hour.


If you're looking for an overview of the store's place in the life of Chicago, try:


When Montgomery Ward's closed its stores in 2001, the company donated its office papers to the Chicago History Museum, along with a collection of photographs, and an extensive set of catalogs.


Montgomery Ward and Company finding aid


In addition to Daily News photos and Hedrich-Blessing photos of Montgomery Ward stores and operations, there is a large collection from the store's archive.

Montgomery Ward and Company visual materials


A subject keyword search in ARCHIE  for "Montgomery Ward*"  limited to "books/serials" brings up 60+ records for published materials related to Ward's, including the in-house employee publication, ForWard, various catalogs, histories of the store, etc. 

Montgomery Ward and Company books and serials


Sears Roebuck & Co., South State Street store, trolley is moving along State Street and a portion of a building across the street is visible, view taken above street-level. Black & white image.

Sears Roebuck & Co., South State Street store, trolley is moving along State Street and a portion of a building across the street is visible, view taken above street-level. 

Although we do not have archival records from Sears, Roebuck, and Co., we have an extensive set of catalogs, in microfilm and in hard copy. Our photo collection includes images of different stores in the Topical File, as well as many photos in the Hedrich-Blessing collection. Search ARCHIE for photos or for books and serials.


We have information in our collections for many other Chicago retail stores. To see what might be available to explore, do a search in ARCHIE for stores such as Carson, Pirie, Scott; Chas. A Stevens; The Boston Store; Lytton's; The Fair Store; Baskin's; John M. Smyth; Spiegel; Butler Brothers; Goldblatt Brothers; Polk Brothers; Mandel Brothers; etc. . (Tip: for the many stores in Chicago started by brothers, search using both the fully-spelled out "brothers" and again using the abbreviation "bros.")

For historical information on Chicago's Loop and shopping, read Emily Remus' A Shopper's Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown.