The Sears Roebuck Catalogue: Reflections on Mail-Order Tradecraft

By: Jon A. Wiant


The announcement from Sears last January that it was shutting down its catalog sales operations provoked a wave of nostalgia among those of us who had grown up with this mail-order enterprise. Some of my colleagues noted that the Sears “Wish Book” was not only rural America’s alternative to the big-city department store, but it was also the lifeline to American goods for many serving abroad. Long before Land’s End, L.L. Bean, Talbots, or anyone of the dozens of other catalogs which now clog our pouches and overseas postal system, Sears kept us in clothes and commodities. And, if we had good tailors, Sears sometimes provided the models to inform the local craftsmen on contemporary styles.

My reflections, however, were of a different order. When it is written, the history of the Sears catalog also deserves a small chapter on the contribution it made to intelligence operations.