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Strawbridge & Clothier records

Creation: 1793-1996
Accession: 2117
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.


  • Creation: 1793-1996



47 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Strawbridge & Clothier was a major department store chain in the Greater Philadelphia area focused on a middle-class clientele. The firm was founded as a partnership by Justus C. Strawbridge and Isaac H. Clothier on July 1, 1868, and incorporated on February 14, 1922. The firm was operated on Quaker principles of simplicity and community service, control remaining with the founding families, especially the Strawbridges, for four generaltions. It was the last locally-​controlled, family-owned department store chain in the Philadelphia area. Despite an early and innovative move into suburban branches beginning in 1930 and the development of the popular Clover line of discount stores and "Clover Day" sales, the firm eventually succumbed to changing patterns in retailing and sold its stores to the May Department Store Company of St. Louis, which had previously bought the Wanamaker chain, on July 15, 1996.

Scope and Content

The Strawbridge & Clothier records are not a complete corporate archive but rather a mix of corporate and legal documents and materials collected for a two-volume anniversary history. Nevertheless, they give a good overall picture of the evolution of retailing in the Philadelphia area, particularly in the twentieth century.

The Corporate records include incorporation papers, board and committee minutes, and annual reports, which give an overall view of the firm's operations.

The Management records are limited to very fragmentary correspondence of the corporate secretaries and president Herbert J. Tily. Much of it concerns bank financing, authorizations, and accounts. There are also executive payrolls (1931-1950), employment contracts for top executives, and notes on executive development programs.

Financial and accounting records include fragmentary runs of journals and ledgers, including a sales ledger (1881) and a sales & salaries ledger (1903-1906); financial statements for S&C and the rival Lit Brothers chain; and tax papers.

Legal records include trial records relative to the failed hostile takeover attempt made by Ronald Baron in 1985-1986. There are transcripts of testimony from the major parties on both sides. This subgroup also contains a variety of miscellaneous legal papers, including settlements with S&C's foreign offices and various suppliers in London, Paris, and Berlin (1921-1926); merchandising agreements with domestic and foreign manufacturers (1896-1907); and claims case files (1906 and 1911).

Real estate records include title papers for the company's flagship store at 8th & Market Streets (1793-1922); contracts for store construction; and some plans for twentieth century construction. Four linear feet of store appraisals for the flagship store are detailed lists for insurance purposes of the store, its fixtures, and contents (1948-1970).

Branch store records include plans, publicity articles, brochures, and scrapbooks, plus leases, mortgages, contracts, and insurance appraisals of store and contents for the following branch stores beginning in 1930: Ardmore, Jenkintown, Springfield, Neshaminy, Plymouth Meeting, and Exton, Pennsylvania; Cherry Hill and Echelon, New Jersey; and Wilmington and Christiana, Delaware. This subgroup documents the growth of suburban shopping strips and shopping malls during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including malls designed by Victor Gruen, an internationally-known designer of shopping centers, and Ewing Cole Erdman & Eubank of Philadelphia.

Personnel records (1876-1993) include payroll records showing salaries of individual workers, and registers of employees, from executives to sales girls and "cash boys" who ran merchandise and money between the wrapping desks and the cashiers. There are also records of the S&C Athletic Association, the S&C Pension Fund Association, the S&C Relief Association, the S&C Chorus, the Christmas & Vacation Fund Association, the Noon Day Club (for women workers), and the Quarter Century Club, which document the Quaker-inspired welfare work programs aimed at all members of the "Store Family." There is a set of the employee magazine STORE CHAT (1906-1993), files and scrapbooks of biographical information on both executives and representative regular employees (1902-1952), employee rules and service codes, and clippings on a 1938 warehouse strike.

Public relations and advertising records (1860-1971), include scrapbooks and cuttings of newspaper ads relating to both sales of merchandise, employee activities and entertainments, and the history of "Clover Days." Another scrapbook contains issues of the special edition of the Philadelphia EVENING BULLETIN sent to residents serving overseas in the armed forces (1944-1946). There are also pamphlets, flyers, and catalogs (1865-1964) and a scapbook covering the construction of the Philadelphia flagship store. Public relations materials include company histories, articles on anniversaries and store openings, promotional literature, samples of shopping bags, calendars, blotters, and playing cards, and materials on Chairman G. Stockton Strawbridge's charitable and civic activities.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


Gift of Steven L. Strawbridge.

Separated Materials

Strawbridge and Clothier photographs and audiovisual materials (Accession 1995.250), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Intiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Complete sets of Strawbridge & Clothier's annual reports and its in-house publication Store Chat were transferred to the Published Collections Department although duplicate copies remain in the collection. Published histories and trade catalogs in good condition were also sent to the Published Collections Department, while some fragile ones, duplicates, and loose pages were kept with the collection. Stray issues of the Strawbridge & Clothier Quarterly were also kept in the collection.

Processing Notes

Wherever possible, archival copies replaced newspaper articles and advertisements for preservation reasons.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Strawbridge & Clothier records
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA