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Marshall Field

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Marshall Field

Marshall Field
Born (1834-08-18)August 18, 1834
Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts
Died January 16, 1906(1906-01-16) (aged 71)
New York City, New York County, New York
Occupation Founder of Marshall Field and Company
Spouse(s) Nannie Douglas Scott, Delia Spencer
Children Marshall Field Jr., Ethel Field
Parents John Field IV and Fidelia Nash

Marshall Field (August 18, 1834 – January 16, 1906) was an American entrepreneur and the founder of Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago-based department stores. His business was renowned for its then-exceptional level of quality and customer service. Field is also known for some of his philanthropic donations, providing funding for the Field Museum of Natural History and donating land for the campus of the University of Chicago.

Early life

Marshall Field was born on a farm in Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts,[1] the son of John Field IV and wife Fidelia Nash. His family was descended from Puritans who had come to America as early as 1650.

At the age of 17, he moved to Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he first worked in a dry goods store.[2] He left Massachusetts at the age of 18 for new opportunities in the rapidly expanding West. In 1856, at age 21, he went to live with his brother in Chicago, Illinois, and obtained employment at leading dry goods merchant Cooley, Wadsworth & Co., which was to become Cooley, Farwell & Co. in 1857.


In 1862, Field purchased a partnership with the reorganized firm of Farwell, Field & Co.

In January 1865, Field and a partner, Levi Leiter, accepted an offer to become senior partners at the dry goods establishment of Potter Palmer. The new firm became known as "Field, Palmer, Leiter & Co." In 1867, after Field and Leiter could afford to buy him out, Palmer withdrew from the firm, and it was renamed "Field, Leiter & Company." Like many Chicago businessmen, Field's company was badly affected by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but reopened relatively quickly. The company also survived the Panic of 1873 because of their relatively low levels of debt. By 1881 Field had forced Leiter to sell his share of the business, and changed the store's name to "Marshall Field and Company".

Field took an early 19th-century consumer landscape that was centered around the principle of caveat emptor, or "buyer beware", and transformed it into a plush shopping experience fit for the Gilded Age. Unconditional refunds, consistent pricing and international imports are among the Field innovations that became standards in quality retailing. Field's employees were also instructed not to push products on uninterested customers as was common practice in stores of the period. The quotes "Give the lady what she wants" and "The customer is always right" are attributed to Field, though the latter may also be an invention of Harry Gordon Selfridge while employed by Field.[3]

Though most famous today for his retail business, during his lifetime his wholesale business made far more money. During the 1880s, Field's wholesale business generated 5 times more revenue than retail annually.[4] The wholesale business even had its own landmark building, the Marshall Field's Wholesale Store, erected in 1887. Revenue from the Marshall Field's retail business did not surpass the company's wholesale business until after Field's death.

Field was highly suspicious of . He married Nannie Douglas Scott of Ironton, Ohio [6] in 1863 and raised two children, Marshall Field, Jr., and Ethel Field. After Scott died in 1896, Field married longtime friend Delia Spencer, widow Caton. His son Marshall Jr. (1868-1905) was married to Albertine Huck, parents of Gwendolyn Mary Field, married to Sir Archibald Charles Edmonstone, 6th Baronet. His daughter Ethel was married to Arthur Magie Tree with whom she had one son, Ronald Tree, and then in 1901 to David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty with whom she had two sons, David and Peter.


Field died in New York City, New York, on January 16, 1906 at age 71 from a case of pneumonia contracted after playing golf on New Year's Day with his nephew, his secretary and Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Todd. Field was buried on January 19. He was interred in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.


After his death, Field's estate was to be held in trust for 40 years for his two grandsons, Henry Field and Marshall Field III. Henry Field died in 1917 and was thus unable to collect his inheritance, leaving the Field fortune in the hands of Marshall Field III.[7]

The Field Museum of Natural History was named after him in 1894 after he gave it an endowment of one million dollars.[8] Field was initially reluctant to do so, reportedly saying "I don't know anything about a museum and I don't care to know anything about a museum. I'm not going to give you a million dollars."[9] However he later relented after railroad supplies magnate Edward E. Ayer, another early benefactor (and later first president) of the museum, convinced Field that his everlasting legacy would be achieved by financing the project.[10] The year after his death the Field Museum received a further $8,000,000 in accordance with his will.[11]

The University of Chicago was founded by both Field and New York's John D. Rockefeller, to rival nearby Evanston's Northwestern University.[12]

A bust of Marshall Field stands aside other early 20th century Chicago industry magnates on the north riverbank on the Chicago River facing the Merchandise Mart.

See also


  1. ^ Marden, Orison Swett. How Marshall Field Succeeded, Mises Institute
  2. ^ Ralph J. Christian (March 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Marshall Field & Company Store" (pdf). National Park Service.  and Accompanying six photos, exterior and interior, from 1960 and undated PDF (32 KB) (A biography of Marshall Field is included)
  3. ^ The customer is always right
  4. ^ O'Gorman, James F. "The Marshall Field Wholesale Store: Materials Towards a Monograph." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol 37, No 3, October 1978. pp 175-194. JSTOR
  5. ^ "People & Events: Marshall Field (1834-1906) and Midwestern Commerce". Chicago: City of the Century.  
  6. ^ Lawrence County, Ohio Historical Society
  7. ^ "Henry Field Dies in Hospital Here." The New York Times, July 9, 1917. The New York Times Archive
  8. ^ Alexander (1996), p. 55
  9. ^ Quoted in Alexander (1996), p. 55.
  10. ^ See Alexander (1996), pp. 55–56. Ayer reportedly convinced Field with the words, "You can sell dry goods until hell freezes over, but in 25 years, you will be absolutely forgotten." See Anderson (1921).
  11. ^ Alexander (1996), p. 56
  12. ^ Men of Affairs: a gallery of cartoon portraits, Chicago Evening Post, 1906; page 1.


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