What was once one of the most popular ways of shopping is remembered each year on August 18th as it is National Mail Order Catalog Day.

This day marks the anniversary of the first Montgomery Wards mail order catalog. On this day in 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward of Chicago produced a catalog designed for direct order via mail. He aimed to remove the middleman from the business of buying and selling. As a result, he also drastically lowered prices.  

The very first catalog consisted of an 8 by 12-inch single sheet of paper. On it, Ward included the merchandise for sale, price list, and ordering instructions. Before long, the Montgomery Wards single-page list of products grew into a 540 page illustrated book selling over 20,000 items. 

It didn’t take long for enterprising merchants to copy Montgomery Wards’ idea. One notable merchant, Richard Warren Sears, mailed his catalog in 1896. As others entered the field, catalog sales grew. By 1971, catalog sales of major United States firms exceeded more than $250 million in postal revenue.

It’s interesting to note, according to the National Mail Order Association, Aaron Montgomery Ward wasn’t the first to conceive of the mail order catalog. In the United States. Benjamin Franklin may have formulated the first basic mail order concept. He produced a catalog to sell scientific and academic books. Franklin also receives credit for offering the first mail-order guarantee: “Those persons who live remote, by sending their orders and money to B. Franklin may depend on the same justice as if present.”

Today, mail order catalogs have been replaced with internet websites. Additionally, the term “mail-order” has been replaced with the term “online shopping.”

HOW TO OBSERVE #MailOrderCatalogDay

While our catalogs are digital these days, which ones are your favorites? Nearly every retail business has an online presence and with that, their catalog of products grows, varies, and changes. It’s an excellent day to support your small online business by shopping with them, sharing their products, or giving them a review. Is there a product you wish they’d carry? Let them know! Many retailers seek customer feedback to improve their business. What are some of you’re favorite purchases from a mail-order catalog (paper or digital)?

Let us know, using #MailOrderCatalogDay to post on social media.

While exploring the benefits of this invention, check out these 7 Useful Inventions You Need.


National Day Calendar continues researching the origins of this shopping holiday.

Mail Order FAQ

Q. Do mail order catalogs still exist?
A. Yes, they do, and they are increasing in popularity. Many companies are issuing small catalogs to grab customers’ attention. Most companies that have catalogs also have websites to sell their products.

Q. What do mail order catalogs sell?
A. Just about anything from fashion and accessories to medical equipment. Some catalogs specialize while others offer a variety of merchandise.

Q. Can I still order directly from a website if I receive a catalog?
A. Yes, but don’t hesitate to look through the entire catalog. Some companies may include special QR codes and discount codes.