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Strawbridge and Clothier photographs and audiovisual materials

1878-1990
 Collection
Accession: 1995-250

Abstract

Strawbridge & Clothier was the last family-owned major department store chain in the Greater Philadelphia area. The store was founded as a partnership by Justus C. Strawbridge (1838-1911) and Isaac H. Clothier (1837-1921) on July 1, 1868 at 8th and Market Streets in Center City Philadelphia. This collection contains photographs, negatives, transparencies, lantern slides, glass negatives, slides, audio tapes, videotapes, and films from Strawbridge & Clothier. It is valuable to those researching all aspects of retail: history, architecture, department stores, shopping malls, employment, operations, promotion, advertising, fashion, and merchandising. Other topics include family-owned businesses, distinguished Quaker families, business response on the homefront during World War II, the Gallery and Market East, and Philadelphia and its environs. There are also proposal albums from the Pavlik Design Team of store design for the Cherry Hill, King of Prussia, and Willow Grove stores and from Neil/Carter Design Associates for Heritage Hall in the Market Street store.

Dates

  • 1878-1990

Creator

Extent

15 Linear Feet

Physical Description

66 photographic prints : b&w ; 50 x 55 cm. 8 photographic prints : color ; 35 x 42 cm. 1 photographic print : b&w ; 11 x 14 in. 1144 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in.39 photographic prints : color ; 8 x 10 in. 157 photographic prints : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller. 28 photographic prints : color ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller. 175 photographic prints : b&w ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. 47 photographic prints : color ; 3 x 4 in. 42 photographic prints (postcards) : b&w. 16 photographic prints (postcards) : color. 31 negatives : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 37 negatives : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. 169 negatives : b&w ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. 45 negatives : b&w, glass ; 4 x 5 in. 23 negatives : color ; 4 x 5 in. 7 negatives : b&w ; 120 mm. 60 negatives : color ; 120 mm. 25 negatives : color ; 35 mm. 34 negatives : b&w ; 35 mm. 17 transparencies : color ; 8 x 10 in. 95 transparencies : color ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller. 3 transparencies : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 3 transparencies : color ; 8 x 10 in. 97 transparencies : color ; 120 mm. 3003 slides : color ; 35 mm. 75 slides : lantern, mostly b&w ; 8 x 10 cm. 1 transparency : b&w ; 7 x 9 cm. 3 prints : engraving, b&w ; 20 x 15 cm. 4 prints : etchings, hand-colored ; 26 x 30 cm. 1 drawing : pencil ; 43 x 57 cm. 1 drawing : pencil ; 8 x 10 in. 1 drawing : pen and ink ; 70 x 54 cm. 1 drawing : hand-colored ; 46 x 61 cm. 1 drawing : mixed media ; 51 x 76 cm. 1 photomechanical print : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 5 contact sheets (56 images) : b&w ; 120 mm. 2 contact sheets (43 images) : b&w ; 35 mm. 1 album (27 photographic prints) : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 1 album (64 photographic prints) : color ; 8 x 10 in. 1 album (77 photographic prints) : color ; 11 x 14 in. 1 album (55 photographic prints) : color ; 11 x 14 in. 1 sound tape reel ; 1/4 in. tape on five in. reels. 19 sound tape reels ; 1/4 in. tape on seven in. reels. 2 sound tape reels ; 1/4 in. tape on eleven in. reels. 5 videocassettes : sd., color ; 1/2 in. 1 videocassette : si., b&w ; 1/2 in. 7 reels : si., b&w ; 16 mm. 1 reel : sd., b&w ; 16 mm. 1 reel : si., color ; 16 mm. 1 reel : sd., color ; 16 mm.

Historical Note

Strawbridge & Clothier was the last family-owned major department store chain in the Greater Philadelphia area. The store was founded as a partnership by Justus C. Strawbridge (1838-1911) and Isaac H. Clothier (1837-1921) on July 1, 1868 at 8th and Market Streets in Center City Philadelphia. Both were Quakers and charged one price for all customers, a rare practice at the time. It opened in the same building that was used as an office by Thomas Jefferson when he was Secretary of State. It was soon replaced by a five-story building and adjacent properties were added as the store expanded. With the growth of the suburbs, Strawbridge & Clothier began publishing its own magazine in the 1880s to reach this customer and to stimulate mail order business. By 1887 the store had branched out from dry goods to other items and was considered a full-fledged department store.

In keeping with their Quaker tradition, the founders stressed service to its customers, community, and employees. For employees, the company established a relief association to administer health and death benefits; a savings fund society; an athletic association; the company magazine, Store Chat; a chorus; and the Quarter Century Club, which was made up of associates with twenty-five years of service or more. For a short while, they even maintained a cottage in North Wildwood for women employees to vacation at the shore. The early 1900s saw the introduction of customer-to-counter telephone service, the advent of the Clover Day sale day, and delivery of goods by truck.

In 1911, the store introduced the Seal of Confidence as a sign of its commitment to satisfactory quality and service. It was adopted in the spirit of the co-founders personally greeting their customers in the early days of the store. It pictured William Penn shaking hands with a Leni-Lenape chief to guarantee a treaty. Changes were made to the Seal periodically.

The company incorporated on February 14, 1922. That same year it also started its own radio station, WFI, which operated out of the store for thirteen years. In 1935 the station left the store and merged with WLIT from their competitor, Lit Brothers department store, to form WFIL. Success had brought the need for a new building, and it was decided to remain at 8th and Market. Construction on the new store began in July of 1928. The thirteen-story, $10 million store was dedicated in October, 1932. In the meantime Strawbridge & Clothier opened its first branch store at Suburban Square in Ardmore, Pennsylvania in 1930 and its second one in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania in 1931. While the Great Depression and the Second World War caused some strain on the company, it was in sound financial shape and made it through without any major losses.

With the growth of the suburbs in the post-war era, the company opened its third branch store in Wilmington, Delaware in 1952. But the period of rapid expansion for the company began in 1961 with the opening of the Cherry Hill Store in the first enclosed shopping mall on the east coast. More branch stores followed from the 1960s to the 1980s with a total of thirteen Strawbridge & Clothier department stores in 1993. In 1971, the company created the Clover division, a chain of discount stores not unlike Target stores. Clover was successful and in a little over twenty years, twenty-seven stores had opened throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

Despite all of this growth, the landscape of the retail industry changed and Strawbridge & Clothier was sold to the May Company of St. Louis on July 15, 1996 ending 128 years of family ownership and operation. The department stores then conducted business under the name Strawbridge's although the signage for most of the stores remained Strawbridge & Clothier. The Clover stores were liquidated or sold. May was eventually bought by Federated Department stores in 2005 and all stores were either closed or converted into Macy's stores.

Initially, both families were involved with running the store. Isaac H. Clothier's two sons, Morris and Isaac, Jr. and his half-brother, Clarkson, were all partners in the firm. Isaac H. Clothier, Jr.'s son, Isaac, 3rd also went into the family business. Isaac H. Clothier, 3rd's son, Isaac, 4th served on the board of directors.

Justus C. Strawbridge had four sons that went to work in the store and became partners in the firm: Edward, Frederic, Robert and Francis. Edward died of pneumonia in his thirties. Frederic had one son, J. Clayton, that went into business. Robert's son and grandson, Robert, Jr. and Robert, 3rd served on the board of directors. Two of Francis's sons, Francis, Jr., and G. Stockton held various positions in the company; they both had two sons each that went into the firm. Francis R. Strawbridge, Jr's sons Francis, 3rd and David and Stockton's sons, Peter and Steven, became partners. Of these last four Francis R. Strawbridge, 3rd and Peter S. Strawbridge took leadership positions in the company.

G. Stockton Strawbridge (1913-1997) deserves special note. Among others he held the positions of buyer, divisional merchandise manager, general merchandise manager, vice president, executive vice president, president, chairman of the board, and chairman of the executive committee. He was President from 1955 to 1967 and Chairman of the Board from 1967 to 1979, overseeing the period of greatest growth in the company. Additionally, he served in many area organizations, including Associated Merchandising Corporation, Old Philadelphia Development Corporation, Philadelphia Divinity School, Board of Managers of Pennsylvania Hospital, and the United Fund. He was also a driving force behind the revitalization of Market Street East and the building of the Gallery shopping mall, a project that took decades of organizing, lobbying, and work to come to fruition.

Scope and Content

This collection contains audio-visual materials from Strawbridge & Clothier department store chain. It is valuable to those researching all aspects of retail: history, architecture, department stores, shopping malls, employment, operations, promotion, advertising, fashion, and merchandising. Other topics include family-owned businesses, distinguished Quaker families, business response on the homefront during World War II, the Gallery and Market East, and Philadelphia and its environs. Materials include photographs, negatives, transparencies, lantern slides, glass negatives, slides, audio tapes, videotapes, and films. There are also proposal albums from the Pavlik Design Team of store design for the Cherry Hill, King of Prussia, and Willow Grove stores and from Neil/Carter Design Associates for Heritage Hall in the Market Street store.

Of further note are some items not directly related to Strawbridge & Clothier: four etchings by miniature painter, Benjamin W. Crombie, from 1837 to 1847, labeled Modern Athenians show caricatures of Scottish academics. (These were later compiled as a book, Modern Athenians, published in 1882 with biographical sketches by William Scott Douglas.) There is also a reproduction of a sketch of the Zook House in West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania.

The collection is organized into eighteen series. Most of these are topics relating to the people, activities, and stores of the company. The remainder are related to the medium of the materials: ephemera, lantern slides, glass negatives, audio, video, and film.

Series I is images of Strawbridge and Clothier family members who were is some way connected to the store. These include the co-founders, Justus C. Strawbridge (1838-1911) and Isaac H. Clothier (1837-1921), their sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons. Anna Estes Strawbridge (1880-1981), the wife of Francis R. Strawbridge (1877-1965) and mother of Francis R. Strawbridge, Jr. (1911-1966) and G. Stockton Strawbridge (1913-1997) has a substantial number of prints and images. There are also a significant number of group shots of G. Stockton Strawbridge's family.

Series II consists of upper level executives and boards of directors. Individual executives with multiple prints include Herbert Tily, Dwight Perkins, Dr. Rachel Williams, and Randall Copeland. Many of the board of directors photographs are oversized and show the mix of family and non-family executives involved in running the company.

Series III focuses on the main store at 8th and Market Streets in all its incarnations. The store had several different buildings on this site throughout its history. Most of the exterior shots are of the last store built on that property in the early 1930s. There are a number of shots of the laying of the cornerstone, which was a big ceremonial occasion. Also included are interiors of this store and it predecessor throughout the 20th century. Finally, the series consists of images of The Gallery and Market Street East redevelopment project. The Gallery was a multi-block shopping mall that connected to the main store on several levels. G. Stockton Strawbridge was a leader in the effort to build the Gallery and redevelop Market East.

Series IV contains images of the display windows of the main store on Market Street from the early 20th century to the late 1970s. Of special note are the windows of the early 1940s and how they related to the World War II effort and war-related events of that time. The display windows decorated for Christmas are also captured in the images.

Series V consists of items related to World War II, specifically, the Four Freedoms War Bond Exhibition. The exhibition took place at Strawbridge & Clothier's main store in Philadelphia and was held in lieu of the store's 75th anniversary. It focused on the Norman Rockwell paintings, The Four Freedoms, and was used as an event to sell war bonds. Included in this series are publications for the exhibition, prints of the four paintings, and a scrapbook with letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings.

Series VI concerns itself with the suburban branch stores. Images of the branch locations include architectural renderings and drawings, grand openings, laying of cornerstones, aerial views, construction, exteriors and interiors. Also included in this series is material on the Zook House and Willow Grove Amusement Park. The Zook House is an historical building near the Exton Square Mall and had some involvement by Anna Estes Strawbridge. The Willow Grove Amusement Park served as a venue for performances by the Strawbridge & Clothier chorus and was the site of the Willow Grove Park shopping mall after it's closure in the 1970s and where Strawbridge & Clothier opened a branch store in the 1980s. There are two folders of images of unidentified groundbreaking ceremonies.

Series VII is made up of images of delivery methods (horse-drawn wagons, early delivery trucks), the distribution center, the service building, the wholesale building and factory, and two warehouses.

Series VIII is a catch-all of things related to the employees, the store, and Philadelphia. The employee-related topics include extracurricular activities like athletics, chorus, band, and glee club; banquets and events, like the Quarter Century Club, 50 years of service awards, and the cash boys picnic. There are some groups of employees included, like the switchboard employees, elevator operators, and holly girls (women who directed customers around the store at Christmas time). There is a section on store-related efforts during World War II. It includes employees who served in the armed forces as well as store windows decorated to show support for the war.

Included in this series are other activities and events related to the store, most notably store anniversaries, pageants, and Christmas time festivities and decorations. There is also material on fashions and fashion merchandising from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a series of slides on the computer inventory system. And there are slides of Strawbridge & Clothier customers. Some of them are from the closing sale at the Wilmington store. This series wraps up with scenes and cityscapes of Philadelphia as well as some images of Strawbridge & Clothier executives with several Philadelphia mayors.

Series IX consists of advertisements, coupons, trade cards, and miscellaneous items with the name or logo of Strawbridge & Clothier. One interesting group is the postcards from an International event the store sponsored. Each card gives demographic and political information about a specific country along with the goods imported and sold by the store. There are several iterations of the Seal of Confidence, which was adopted by the store as a symbol that fair business would be transacted. There are a small group of photographs that depict different shoplifting scenarios. Also included are some materials related to the radio station, WFI, that started in the store. Some seemingly unrelated images are included in this series concerning art deco design, mattress manufacturing, and the Modern Athenians prints.

Series X contains images from the Clover Store division and those used in the two volumes of the publication, Family Business. The Clover Store sections are ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremonies as well as images of executives. Family Business was a publication that traced the history of the company. There was a volume in 1968 and another in 1981 subtitled The Momentous Seventies. Many of the images for these publications are duplicates of images found elsewhere in the collection. Their value here is that they show some of what they thought important enough to include in a history of the company. Also, a copy of Family Business: The Momentous Seventies can be found here. This series also includes a miscellaneous folder. Prints range from 19th century portraits (unidentified persons) through the 1970s.

Series XI is a collection of prints that were used in the Strawbridge & Clothier employee publication, Store Chat. Many of the prints are of employees and of departments of employees from around the company, especially at winter holiday time. Also included are sales rallies, fashion shows, athletics, and other store events. Many of the folders from the mid-1950s have a copy of the publication in the folder.

Series XII comprises lantern slides that give an overview of the company from the store properties, business and merchandising departments, the the co-founders and their sons, employees, employee-related activities, and business-related activities. There is an editorial by the sons of the founders on taking the business forward.

Series XIII consists of glass negatives of people (founders, sons, employees, others), store exteriors and interiors, employee activities, and business-related subjects (delivery, paperwork, advertisements, logos and symbols). The same editorial that is in the lantern slides is also in the glass negatives. There are also several glass negatives of Philadelphia scenes.

Series XIV is made up of slides and transparencies. They are of employees throughout the organization. In some instances employees are broken up by store location, in others by job function. Many are parts of management recruitment presentations and many others were likely taken for other Strawbridge & Clothier productions and presentations.

Series XV is the audio series. They include recordings of jingles, speakers at banquets, and interviews with associates. There are two recordings about the closing of a branch store (Wilmington, Jenkintown) because they were opening a bigger, newer store in a nearby location (Concord, Willow Grove, respectively). There is also an oversized record album on the opening of the Wilmington store in the Merchandise Mart.

Series XVI is the video series. It is a small series with videotapes of a generic Christmas advertisement, multi-image presentations about store openings (including the Concord and Willow Grove openings), and presentations at Quarter Century Club dinners.

Series XVII consists of interior and store design presentations by The Pavlik Design Team of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The stores concerned include Concord, Cherry Hill, King of Prussia, and Willow Grove.

Series XVIII is the film series. The highlight is a silent movie, A Modern Store, about the building and opening of the store at 8th and Market Streets in Philadelphia in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The film has been transferred to videotape for easier access as the film itself is brittle and in fragile condition. There are several short films (100 ft) that are generally of ceremonial events. The more moderate length films (400 ft) have to do with store events around fashion except for A Modern Store. The longest film (500 ft) is about travel to Philadelphia for which Strawbridge & Clothier supplied the set furnishings. This is the store's copy from the producer.

Existence and Location of Copies

View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research. Litigators may not view the collection without approval.

Film based material is housed in cold storage (Boxes 23-30 and Film Cans 1-7). Please contact the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.

Access to view lantern slides is at the discretion of the conservator. Please inquire in advance of your visit.

Glass plate negatives do not circulate.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

On Deposit.

Separated Material

Strawbridge & Clothier records (Accession 2117), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Strawbridge and Clothier photographs and audiovisual materials
Status:
Author:
Alex Miller
Date:
2015.
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Audiovisual Collections Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400