© 2023
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trade At Home

Ways To Subscribe

Online shopping is common today. Virtually any product is available from the comfort of home. But shopping from home isn't new. Publisher Aldus Manutius is credited with distributing a catalog of his publications way back in 1498. Shopping by mail did not catch on widely, however, until the advent of the railroads. In 1861 Welshman Pryce Pryce-Jones began shipping his wool sweaters to consumers by mail.

The United States entered the mail-order craze in 1845 with Tiffany’s Blue Book. In 1872, Montgomery Ward began its mail-order business. Selling goods directly to consumers allowed the company to dramatically lower prices. The original catalog began as a single sheet of paper, but it grew to become a 540-page book with over twenty thousand products. In 1888, Richard Sears joined the mail-order business. By 1894, the 322-page Sears catalog offered everything from clothing to automobiles.

The westward expansion spurred by the 1862 Homestead Act meant people were living far from towns where they could shop. The introduction of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 made the distribution of catalogs economical. Businesses shipped their catalogs at the cost of one penny per pound. It was a boon to settlers living far from stores who suddenly had access to necessary goods as well as luxuries.

Not everyone was a fan of the mail order business. On this date in 1918, the North Dakota Retail Merchants Association adopted the slogan: “Trade at Home.” President Mann of the Association noted that the slogan “will do as much to head off the Mail Order buying as anything I know of.” Mann urged retailers to advertise that they offered goods equal to or better than products sold by mail. He said the North Dakota retailers had to set a good example by purchasing local goods and services whenever possible, including advertising in local newspapers. He advised business owners to adopt modern methods to overcome the challenge of mail order competitors.

The Retail Merchants Association was not able to put an end to the mail order threat. Many successful local businesses chose to compete by offering mail order shopping themselves. Today there are a few online shopping giants, but the internet has also made it easier for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs to offer products and services directly to consumers.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bottineau Courant. “Trade at Home.” Bottineau ND. 3/14/1918. Page 1.

UBIO. “A Brief History of Aggregators.” https://medium.com/the-automator/a-brief-history-of-aggregators-part-2-mail-order-online-shopping-and-affiliate-marketing-438ed0e1a40f Accessed 2/13/2022.

Sears Archives. “The History of the Sears Catalog.” http://www.searsarchives.com/catalogs/history.htm Accessed 2/13/2022.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content