Harry Gordon Selfridge: 10 Things You Might Not Know

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1. Harry Gordon Selfridge was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, on January 11, 1864.


2. At the age of 12 Selfridge created a boy’s monthly magazine with schoolfriend Peter Loomis, making money from the advertising carried within.


3.  Selfridge started work as a stock boy at Chicago department store Field, Leiter & Company (which became Marshall Field and Company, later bought by Macy’s). Over the next 25 years Selfridge worked his way up to until he was a partner in the business.


4. Selfridge was the first to promote Christmas sales with the phrase “Only _____ Shopping Days Until Christmas”, a catchphrase that quickly was picked up by retailers in other markets.


5. In 1906, Selfridge travelled to England on holiday with his wife. Unimpressed with the quality of existing British retailers, he noticed that the large stores in London had not adopted the latest selling ideas that were being used in the United States. Selfridge decided to invest £400,000 in building his own department store in what was then the unfashionable western end of Oxford Street. The new store opened to the public on 15 March 1909, setting new standards for the retailing business.


6. A canny marketer, Selfridge promoted the radical notion of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity.


7. Selfridge obtain from the General Post Office the privilege of having the number “1” as its own phone number, so anybody had to just dial 1 to be connected to Selfridge’s operators.


8. In 1941, Harry left Selfridges. The provincial stores were sold to the John Lewis Partnership in the 1940s, and in 1951 the original Oxford Street store was acquired by the Liverpool-based Lewis’s chain of department stores, which was in turn taken over in 1965 by the Sears Group.


9. In 1890 Selfridge married Rosalie “Rose” Buckingham of the prominent Buckingham family of Chicago. A 30 year old successful property developer, she had inherited money and expertise from her father Frank Buckingham who had been in real estate. During the years of the Great Depression, Selfridge watched his fortune rapidly decline and then disappear – a situation not helped by his continuing free-spending ways. In 1941, he left Selfridges and moved from his lavish home and travelled around London by bus. In 1947, he died in straitened circumstances, at Putney, in south-west London. Selfridge was buried in St Mark’s Churchyard at Highcliffe, next to his wife and his mother.


10. Selfridge coined the famous retail matra – “The customer is always right”.


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