Volume 1288

with 50 Sears Stereoview Cards from ERB's Personal Library
Visit the ERB Personal Library Project

"So many people have written that I was a failure in business before I began writing that most people take for granted the statement's true. Contrary to that belief I never was fired from a job. If Sears, Roebuck & Co. records go back far enough, I'll bet they show I was a good departmental manager for them."
Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ Chicago Daily Times Interview 1939

Sears, Roebuck & Co. Buildings and Rail Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Seeing a great future in the mail order business, 32-year-old Ed Burroughs applied for a position at the Sears, Roebuck and Company in early 1907. Sears was one of the fastest growing companies in American and its thousand-page mail order catalogue was a cherished item in homes across the country -- especially in rural areas. He was given a position in the correspondence department, but was soon promoted to Manager of the Stenographic Department.

The Sears Stenographic Department circa 1907

This department consisted of 150 stenographers, dictaphone operators, multigraph operators and typists, and as such, was a kind of showroom that attracted regular visits and inspections by company executives and visiting VIPs. Ed's business sense, efficiency and managerial skills were soon noticed by company executives and his supervisor reported:

"I found the Stenographic Deaprtment to be in very satisfactory condition. The department is well managed by Mr. Burroughs, who is handling the department in a business like and rather professional manner. He seems to be conversant with every detail of the department; knows all that goes on, and is in every respect all that could be expected of a Manager. . . . In all the department shows a remarkable improvement over its conditon a year ago, and I think that Mr. Burroughs and his division heads should be given due credit for what they have done."
Throughout his almost-two-year stint at Sears there were many instances where Ed improved the efficiency of the department and developed procedures that saved the company considerable sums of money. He carried out his managerial duties with great attention to detail, imagination and a sense of humour, as is shown in the creative bits of writing and cartoons that he created.

Copyright 1975 ERB, Inc. ~ Download not permitted
ERB's cartoons of the Sears, Roebuck stenographic department
After a year with the company it was obvious that he was embarked on a successful career with Sears & Roebuck, which almost certainly promised steady advancement. Then, in August 1908, with a wife and a seven-month old baby girl to support, he impulsively resigned to go into the advertising business for himself.

This was the beginning of three lean years resulting from a series of failed get-rich-quick schemes, but he was determined to make it in business on his own terms.

". . .  about a year after I had left Sears they sent a man to see me, asking me to return and enter a merchandise department with the purpose of training to become assistant manager. Had I accepted I should probably have eventually become the manager, for that was Sears' policy over thirty years ago, as it evidently is today -- to promote from within. Also, had I accepted, Tarzan of the Apes would never have been created . . . "
The personal library of Edgar Rice Burroughs contains many 3-D stereoviews -- a very popular source of entertainment before the arrival of low-cost personal photography, moving pictures, radio and television. One well-used set of 50 stereo cards was issued by the Sears, Roebuck Co. of Chicago around the time Ed was associated with the company. They provide a remarkable time capsule that shows the importance of this company and of how business was conducted in Chicago 100 years ago.

Description on the back of Sears Stereoview Card No. 26: Stenographic Department


circa 1907

From the Danton Burroughs Family Archive
Scans by Robert Zeuschner
Sears Cards 1-10
Sears Cards 11-20
Sears Cards 21-30
Sears Cards 31-40
Sears Cards 41-50


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