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Field, Marshall

Marshall Field

Born: August 18, 1834
Conway, Massachusetts
Died: January 16, 1906
New York, New York
Founder, Marshall Field's department stores

Marshall Field is considered to be one of the greatest retailers of all time. He virtually created the modern department store, and he played a large role in Chicago's transformation from a small town to a major city. Field was one of the great American self-made millionaires of the nineteenth century.

A shy and hard-working man, Field's success in business did not guarantee a happy personal life. His first marriage, to Nannie Scott, ended in 1896 with his wife's death in France, where she lived without Field for many years. Field's son, Marshall II, died almost ten years later in a tragic shooting accident. Field's last joy in life was his marriage to long-time friend Delia Caton just a few months before his own death. Sometimes portrayed as lonely and unloved, Field found his deepest happiness in his store.

"If Marshall Field had anything to sell, he would sell it, if a customer came in; if a customer did not come in, he was not above going out and finding one."

Joseph Field, Marshall Field's brother

The Road to Chicago

Marshall Field was born on August 18, 1834, in Conway, Massachusetts. He was the third of six children. His parents, John and Fidelia, ran a farm just outside of Conway. When he wasn't working on the farm, Field took classes at a nearby school. He became expert at trading with the other boys for their pocketknives. At fifteen, Field began working as a clerk in a local store, after his father sold the family farm to Field's older brother Chandler. He realized he would never have a farm of his own and needed a new career.

At first Field did not seem cut out for retailing. His first employer told Mr. Field that his son would never be able to run a store. Field returned to farm work for several years before leaving Conway to work at a store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He did better this time, easily memorizing the store's products and prices, and showing a flair for handling customers. After five years, Field's boss offered to make him a partner, but Field declined. He wanted to move west, and by the end of the year he had settled in Chicago, Illinois.

At the time, Chicago was a town of about eight thousand people, with rows of wooden buildings lining dirt roads that turned muddy in the rain. The town, however, was slowly becoming the most important city in the Midwest. Its location on Lake Michigan and the increasing number of railways leading to it made Chicago a center for trade. Field took a job with Cooley, Wadsworth and Company, the largest dry-goods store in the city. By 1860, Field was a junior partner in the company. Five years later, he and another partner at Cooley, Levi Leiter, went into business with one of their competitors, Potter Palmer.

His first year in Chicago, Marshall Field earned just $400, which was an average yearly salary for the time. He slept in the Cooley store where he worked to save money. After he joined forces with Palmer and Leiter to form his own company, Field was worth was more than $250,000.

The Field Way

With his new store, Field followed the practices he had developed at Cooley. He and his partners rarely sold items on credit and paid cash for what they sold. These policies helped the store survive difficult times when business slowed. Field also looked for the best products available and dealt honestly with his customers.

In 1867, Palmer sold his share of the store. Field then brought his brothers Joseph and Henry into the business, which was renamed Field, Leiter and Company. The next year, the company opened a new store in a beautiful downtown building. An impressed reporter for the Chicago Tribune wrote that the store "looked palatial, fairy-like, and for all the world as if it had been brought into existence by some enchanter." The grand building, however, was badly damaged in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Field temporarily set up business in a large barn, then opened a new store in 1872. Business grew again, as Field offered a wide range of goods, many of them imported from Europe. Later, the company set up its own factories to make many of the items sold in the store. Field's signature appeared on the label of many of the clothes, a sign to shoppers they had bought a quality product.

By the end of the decade, Field's partnership with Leiter grew tense. Field bought his share of the business in 1881, and the company was renamed Marshall Field & Company. Going into the 1890s, Field dominated the department store business in Chicago. He introduced several policies copied by stores around the nation, such as free delivery and an easy return policy. Field helped popularize the idea that "the customer is always right."

The company's growth came as Chicago was turning into an industrial center, and more people had money to buy the fine products Marshall Field's offered. Field especially catered to women, creating a pleasing shopping environment. The store was also a tourist attraction for people who had never seen a department store with such splendor.

In 1905, Marshall Field was the largest individual taxpayer in the United States.

Businessman and Philanthropist

As his wealth increased, Field became an important figure in Chicago. He was friendly with the city's other business leaders, including George Pullman (1831-1897), a maker of railroad cars. When Pullman's workers went on strike in 1894, Field suggested the Illinois National Guard be called in to break up the strike. Chicago labor leaders began calling the Guardsmen "Marshall Field's Boys." With his own workers, Field set high standards. His store clerks received less than the standard wage, but they were also rewarded with more responsibility. One new clerk, John Shedd, impressed Field with his intelligence and hard work, so Field promoted him. Shedd became president of the company after Field's death.

Robert Ulrich: Leader of a Retail Giant

"Speed is life" is the motto of Target Corporation chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) Robert J. Ulrich. "Speed has to be our way of life," Ulrich said at Target's 1994 annual corporate meeting, as reported in Discount Store News. "Companies have to run faster just to stay in place. And we have no intention of standing still." Ulrich was true to his word, keeping Target Corporation growing by adding new stores and orchestrating the switch that put the Marshall Field name on the former Dayton's and Hudson's stores.

Born in 1944, Ulrich has spent his entire career at Dayton Hudson/Target. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he started at Dayton's as a management trainee. As he worked his way up through the company, he held a variety of positions, including sales manager, buyer, and group manager. In 1981, Ulrich was made president and CEO of Diamond's, then one of Dayton Hudson's smaller chains. Three years later, after the Dayton's and Hudson's stores were combined into one department-store company, he was named president of the new division.

In 1986, Ulrich took over as president of the Target stores, just as DH was planning to expand its discount division. The next year he was named chairman of Target. In 1994, Ulrich stepped up to chairman and CEO of Dayton Hudson, although he remained committed to Target and promoted several former associates there to key positions in the parent company. In 2000, when Target's revenue represented 80 percent of the company's sales, Ulrich announced DH's name change to Target Corporation. He told Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, "Target Corporation is a more appropriate name for the company and is also a more widely recognized brand name." Ulrich plans to keep Target growing, especially in the Northeast.

For the first part of his career, Field was not particularly active with charities, but starting in the 1890s he became more generous. He donated the land for the University of Chicago and also gave money to the school. In 1893, he gave $1 million for a museum built for the Columbian Exhibition, a world's fair held in Chicago to honor the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to America. Today, the Field Museum of Natural History is one of the finest museums in the United States.

By the time Field died in 1906, his fortune was worth about $150 million. Most of this was real estate Field owned in Chicago. In his will, he left money for the Field Museum and several local charities. Most of his money went into a trust for his grandsons, Henry and Marshall III. (The younger Marshall Field later used some of his wealth to enter the newspaper publishing industry.) Field had succeeded in business by following several simple rules. In 1896, he wrote some of them down in a letter, quoted in John Tebbel's book, The Marshall Fields. "Merchants who keep their business well in hand," Field wrote, "sell for cash keep good habits and give strict attention to business very rarely fail."

For More Information


Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty, eds. The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.

Tebbel, John. The Marshall Fields: A Study in Wealth. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1947.


Berss, Marcia. "Coming Home." Forbes (May 14, 1990): p. 44.

Bodipo-Memba, Alejandro. "Hudson's Gets New Identity." Detroit Free Press (January 13, 2001).

Chakravarty, Subrata N. "Planning for the Upturn." Forbes (December 23, 1991): p. 48.

Chandler, Susan. "Dayton Hudson's Name Change to Target Reflects Discount Retailer's Growth." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (January 13, 2000).

Conlin, Michelle. "Mass With Class." Forbes (January 11, 1999): p. 50. Howard, Tammi. "Target: Dayton Hudson's Discount Jewel." Women's Wear Daily (November 14, 1988): p. 92.

"Hudson's in Detroit: A Timeline." Detroit Free Press (January 13, 2001). Karr, Arnold. "Macke Dayton Hudson CEO." Daily News Record (September 16, 1983): p. 2.

Moore, Janet. "Dayton's, Hudson's Department Stores to Use Marshall Field's Name." Minneapolis-SL Paul Star Tribune (January 13, 2001).

Rowley, Cynthia. "Target's Aim: The Designer's Edge." Business Week (February 28, 2002).

Talaski, Karen. "Hudson's: 120 and Still Counting." Detroit News (February 4, 2001).

Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. "Never Mind the High Road." Forbes (December 3, 1984): p. 174.

"Ulrich Sticks to Generalities at DH Annual Meeting." Discount Store News (June 20, 1994): p. 3.

Web Sites

Target Corporation. [On-line] (accessed on August 16, 2002).

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Field, Marshall


Marshall Field (18341906), the founder of one the world's largest department stores, represented for many U.S. citizens of his generation an example of the classic rags-to-riches success story. Field, the tenth richest man in U.S. history, originated the "customer is always right" policy and introduced many other now-standard retail practices including liberal credit, openly displayed prices, an in-store restaurant, and acceptance of returned merchandise.

Field was born in 1834 and raised on a farm near Pittsfield in western Massachusetts. He left school at age 17 to work in a local dry goods store. After five years his employer offered him the opportunity of an eventual partnership in the store, but Field declined, deciding that opportunities for an ambitious young man lay further west. In 1856, at age 22, armed with a reference from his boss describing him as "a young man of unusual business talent," Field left New England for Chicago, then a rude, muddy, and vibrant city that had just produced its first generation of millionaires. Field's older brother, Joseph, helped secure him a job with Cooley, Wadsworth and Co., the city's largest dry goods store. The small, serious, and polite Marshall Field arranged to live and sleep in the store, and thus he managed to save half of his small income. Field, who came to be known as "silent Marsh" because of his retiring social manner, was determined to make a success of himself. In less than four years, he had become a full partner in the store.

When Cooley retired in 1864, the store became known as Farwell, Field, and Company. Field soon left the store to join with a partner, Levi Leiter, in a new and expanded dry goods business, which they called Field, Leiter. The firm grossed $9 million in its first year (1867). Field worked day and night to build his business and make it a success.

The firm's first major building, a grandiose edifice at the corner of Washington and State Streets in downtown Chicago was only three years old when it went up in smoke in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Field was back in business in a new building by the following year. In 1877 Field, Leiter was again devastated by fire. The building was a total loss, but Field, more than adequately insured, was again able to immediately rebuild.

At a relatively young age, Field had become well known for his hard work, shrewdness in business, honesty, merchandising skills, and penny-pinching personal habits. In 1881 he bought out his partner, Leiter, for $2.5 million. By 1888 he was an extremely rich man and a director of least 28 major corporations. His store continued to thrive during Field's lifetime and throughout the twentieth century. At his death in 1906, Field left an estate valued at $125 million, the equivalent of $40.7 billion in 1998, according to American Heritage. Among his bequests were substantial gifts to the University of Chicago and the museum that later became the Field Museum of Natural History.

See also: Chicago Fire of 1871, Department Store


Becker, Stephen. Marshal Field III. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.

Klepper, Michael, Robert Gunther, Jeanette Baik, Linda Barth, and Christine Gibson. "American Heritage 40: A Ranking of the 40 Wealthiest Americans of All Time." American Heritage, October 1998.

Pierce, B.L. "Rise of a Modern City, 18711893." History of Chicago, vol. 3, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.

Twyman, Robert. Marshall Field and Co., 18521906. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1906.

Wendt, Lloyd. Give the Lady What She Wants. Skokie: Rand McNally and Co., 1952.

the customer is always right.

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Marshall Field

Marshall Field

The American merchant Marshall Field (1834-1906) established one of America's first innovative wholesale and retail dry-goods businesses.

The son of a farmer, Marshall Field was born near Conway, Mass., and attended local schools until he was 17. He clerked in a dry-goods store in Pittsfield, Mass. In 1856 he went to Chicago, where he worked for Cooley, Wadsworth and Company, a wholesale dry-goods firm, in 1861 becoming the general manager and a partner. In 1864 Levi Z. Leiter, a large-scale real estate operator, joined the company as a silent partner. When Potter Palmer, an entrepreneur and real estate developer, joined his dry-goods business with Field's and Leiter's, the company became Field, Palmer and Leiter. When Palmer retired in 1867 and Leiter in 1881, the organization became Marshall Field and Company, owned almost entirely by Field and run directly by him. Field was in fact the source and inspiration of the ideas that revolutionized retail selling everywhere.

The Field enterprise was highly diversified. It sold wholesale dry goods through a sales force reaching small stores all over the Midwest; manufactured dry goods in factories in the British Isles, France, and elsewhere; had its own buying offices all over the world; and operated its retail department store, Marshall Field and Company, in Chicago. When Field died on Jan. 16, 1906, the store covered some 36 acres over 11 Chicago blocks, the largest establishment of its kind.

As a merchant, Field was responsible for many innovations. He introduced the one-price system, bought and sold for cash, and permitted exchange of goods. The reliability of his store was well known. Various customer services were also initiated or early adopted by Field: restaurants, personal shoppers, home delivery, an interior decoration department, and a bargain basement. His sales grew from $12 million annually in 1868 to $25 million in 1881 and $68 million in 1906.

Meanwhile, Field pushed the development of downtown Chicago, so that when he died, half of his fortune, estimated to be between $100 million and $150 million, was in Chicago properties. He wished to make Chicago a great educational and cultural center and gave large sums to various institutions. He helped found the Art Institute, donated the land on which the first buildings of the University of Chicago were erected, and contributed $1 million for the museum at the World's Columbian Exposition. This museum became Field's chief interest; in addition to gifts during his lifetime his $8-million bequest built the Field (later Chicago) Museum of Natural History.

Further Reading

John Tebbel, The Marshall Fields: A Study in Wealth (1947), is a family biography. An early company history is S. H. Ditchett, Marshall Field and Company: The Life Story of a Great Concern (1922). A popularized history is Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Give the Lady What She Wants! … The Story of Marshall Field & Co. (1952). □

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Field, Marshall

Marshall Field, 1834–1906, American merchant, b. Conway, Mass. In 1856, after five years' apprenticeship in a general store in Pittsfield, Mass., he went to Chicago and became a clerk for Cooley, Wadsworth & Co., a leading dry-goods house there, of which he became a junior partner in 1862. In 1865 he became a partner in the firm of Field, Palmer, and Leiter, the company that became Marshall Field and Co. in 1881. He amassed one of the largest private fortunes in the United States and pioneered in establishing many modern retailing practices.

He made the first of his major philanthropies when he was a charter member of the corporation formed (1878) to found the institution which became the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1890 he gave the original tract of land for the Univ. of Chicago, ultimately becoming one of the largest donors to the school. In 1893 he gave $1,000,000 to the fund for the museum at the World's Columbian Exposition. Its collections were the nucleus of the Field Museum of Natural History, now housed in a magnificent building on the Chicago lakefront that was provided by a bequest of $8,000,000 from Field.

His son, Marshall Field 2d, 1868–1905, never made any move to follow his father into business. His early death from a gun wound was officially held to have been accidental.

Marshall Field 3d, 1893–1956, son of Marshall Field 2d, was educated at Eton and at Cambridge, then served in World War I. He engaged in numerous business activities until 1936, when he gave up all of them to devote himself to his various social projects. In June, 1940, Field helped found the New York City liberal newspaper PM. He was the publication's largest stockholder and, from Oct., 1940, its owner. He took no part in its editorial direction, but offered it financial support until Apr., 1948, when the paper was sold; soon afterward it went out of business.

In 1941, Field started the Chicago Sun, and in Jan., 1948, he bought the Chicago Times and merged the two papers. Field took a more active part in that journalistic enterprise, ultimately becoming the paper's dominant personality. Through Field Enterprises, Inc. (est. 1944) he also published the World Book Encyclopedia. His charities included many child welfare organizations. Field's political and social beliefs are expressed in his book Freedom Is More than a Word (1945).

See L. Wendt and H. Kogan, Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field and Co. (1952); biography of Marshall Field 3d by S. D. Becker (1964); J. Tebbel, The Marshall Fields: A Study in Wealth (1947).

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