John Wanamaker was a pioneer merchant and leader in the field of retail advertising.
Reflecting his belief that "Advertising...exerts an irresistible power," Wanamaker invested large sums of money into advertisements promoting his department stores. While the concept of the department store dated back to 1826, his approach to retail advertising was revolutionary, if not in style then in volume.
The Wanamaker style emphasized the use of straightforward language. This new type of truth and frankness in advertising showed how to express the store’s personality and management. He also sought to make a statement. In 1874 he placed the first half-page advertisement ever published in a newspaper, and in 1879 he ran the first full-page newspaper ad, beginning a schedule of such ads in 1888.
His faith in the value of advertising helped his store become the largest retailer of men’s clothing by 1868. Wanamaker showed both merchants and manufacturers the power of advertising to move a large volume of goods and stimulate mass distribution and production. His example kickstarted a large-scale rise in advertising by retailers and national advertisers.
In 1874Wannamaker published a copyrighted advertisement in which he stated his four cardinal points: "full guarantee, one price, cash payment, cash returned." He personally wrote many of the advertisements for the John Wanamaker Company. In the last 10 years of his life, he penned and published more than 3,000 business editorials in which he summed up his and his store’s philosophy.
Wanamaker also believed in the value of service, both to his country and to its people. He served as Postmaster General under President Benjamin Harrison, fighting in Washington for the creation of a rural delivery system and parcel post service. In 1918 he served as one of the directors of the War Welfare Council, contributing his talents to the war effort. Wanamaker also worked to help children, establishing the John Wanamaker Commercial Institute in 1896.