The Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame and the Evolution of Selling

During a 1989 taping of Late Night with David Letterman at the Chicago Theatre, Letterman conducted a tongue-in-cheek Chicago trivia quiz. When a photograph similar to the one below was shown Letterman asked: “Chicagoans recognize this as A) a tribute to Chicago’s historic leaders; B) a salute to the city’s great architects; C) the Pez Hall of Fame” [1]. The Chicago-based audience awarded the punch line referencing the iconic candy dispenser with arguably the largest laugh of the set.

Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame. November 2020. Photo by author.
PEZ candy dispenser.
Photo by author.

Laughs aside, if this had been a straight forward trivia contest, how many in the audience would have guessed the correct answer? Zero. None of the options were correct. The eight bronze busts comprise the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame conceived in 1953 to honor prominent American merchants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Who is included and why tells the story of commerce during those eras.

The Merchandise Mart, 1941. Curt Teich Postcard Archives, Newberry Library. Internet Archive,

The Merchandise Mart was constructed between 1928 and 1930 by Marshall Field & Co. to house its growing wholesale business [2]. The Chicago architecture firm Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White designed “the world’s largest business building” with nearly 4,000,000 square feet of floor space [3]. Marshall Field’s wholesale operations occupied a portion of the building and the remaining space was leased to a variety of other tenants [4]. Before the end of the decade, Marshall Field reduced its footprint in the building and found managing the real estate burdensome [5].  Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and patriarch of the political Kennedy clan, purchased the Merchandise Mart in 1945 [6].

In 1953, Kennedy launched the Merchants of America Hall of Fame, as it was originally known, at a black–tie dinner on the roof of the Merchandise Mart attended by hundreds of businessmen and local dignitaries [7]. The goal was to honor “the outstanding merchants of the past, [thereby] pay[ing] long overdue honor to all merchants and to the unequaled American system of distribution” [8]. One speaker highlighted the role merchants played in western expansion. In a letter read aloud, President Eisenhower anticipated merchants would underpin future economic growth [9]. The Hall of Fame celebrated both salesmanship of the past and the future.

The inaugural class nominated by retailers and voted upon by financial and business writers included Marshall Field (1834-1906), John R. Wanamaker (1838-1922), George Huntington Hartford (1833-1917), and Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919). Marshall Field of Chicago and John R. Wanamaker of Philadelphia revolutionized the shopping experience. Their new late-nineteenth century department store concept offered one-stop shopping, a marked price for each good, and full refunds [10]. Field was one of the first to offer services in addition to quality goods to engender customer loyalty [11]. Wanamaker was a pioneer of retail advertising and is credited with the first store restaurant [12].

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is merchmartfieldbust-1.jpgThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is merchmartwanamakerbust-1.jpgThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is merchmarthartfordbust.jpgThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is merchmartwoolworthbust.jpg
Left to right: Marshall Field, John R. Wanamaker, George H. Hartford, Frank W. Woolworth. Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame. November 2020. Photos by author.

Fellow inductees George Huntington Hartford and Frank Winfield Woolworth, both of New York, perfected the chain store concept which allowed a large number of stores to centrally purchase goods and negotiate better prices. In 1863, Huntington cofounded what would become the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) grocery store chain. Between 1915 and 1965, A&P was the largest retailer in the United States [13]. Woolworth was a pioneer of the five-and-ten cent store and was the first to use self-service display cases [14].

Over the next few years, bronze busts of the initial inductees and new Hall of Fame members were installed across the street from the Merchandise Mart, perhaps, in Kennedy’s view, conveying approval of this palace of consumerism. President Herbert Hoover delivered the keynote address at the unveiling of the busts by sculptors Charles Umlauf, Milton Horn and Lewis Iselin [15]. Kennedy announced the next two inductees: Edward A. Filene (1960-1937) of William Filene’s Sons & Co., Boston, and Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) of Sears Roebuck & Co., Chicago [16].  Henry Rox and Charles Umlauf sculpted the new busts [17].  In 1955, General Robert E. Wood (1879-1970), retired chairman of Sears, became the first living inductee [18]. Minna Harkavy created the Wood bust [19]. The Hall of Fame proved to be a good public relations vehicle and a way to strengthen relationships with the retailers that patronized the Merchandise Mart [20].

General Robert E. Wood and Julius Rosenwald.
Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame.
November 2020. Photo by author.

The Hall of Fame was well received during the initial years of its existence, but almost twenty years passed before Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843-1913), founder of Montgomery Ward & Company, joined the other merchants as the final inductee [21]. Sculptor Milton Horn created the Ward bust in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ward’s creation of mail order business [22].  One of the reasons for the gap was that the subject matter of the Hall of Fame expressed antiquated values even when it was erected [23].  In honoring these retail giants, the aging Kennedy engaged in a strong nostalgia for the 1920s, a decade of heightened consumerism ushered in by the self-made salesmen of the Hall of Fame [24]. By the mid 1950s, themes of frustration and alienation appeared in literary works such as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and according to historian Timothy J. Garvey, “[A]t a time when the dream of business success seemed remote and the ideal of the self-made man seemed increasingly unrealistic, the modern viewer who was encouraged to look to those portraits [the Hall of Fame busts] for inspiration was, no doubt, a good deal less sanguine about the values they represented” [25].

Hints that a ninth honoree was imminent appeared in a 1977 Chicago Tribune column, but it did not come to be [26]. The Hall of Fame no longer supported the mission of the Merchandise Mart. After having served as a wholesale buying center for retailers, the Merchandise Mart changed focus and became known for its interior design showrooms [27]. The Kennedy family sold the property to the Vornado Realty Trust in 1998 [28].  In 2016 Vornado rebranded the structure as theMART which, in a sign of the times, began offering “lifestyle amenities [to] accommodate[ing] knowledge economy workers” to attract tenants such as Motorola Mobility, Yelp, and a variety of technology startup companies [29]. Brad Zizmor, principal of the New York design firm responsible for the overhaul commented “The shoeshine stands and newsstands of the 1950s are not meaningful anymore” [30]. Neither was the Hall of Fame.

The Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame. November 2020.
Photo by author.

As the Merchandise Mart evolved inside, so did the public space outside. Today, the busts serve as a backdrop to an outdoor restaurant and trash receptacles sit at the base of the columns. The stone marker designating the promenade as the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame has been removed. In 2019 Art on theMART launched a digital art installation using thirty-four projectors to cast images across the river on to the façade of the building on selected evenings, literally overshadowing the monuments [31].

Today, people enjoying a coffee below the busts may recognize a few of the names on the plaques, but it is unlikely they know these men laid the foundation of the modern retail world. Except for struggling Sears, the powerhouse retailers of late 19th and early 20th centuries are gone. They were victims of changing consumer habits including the rise of online shopping – the department store, chain store, and mail order business in one. Who would be inducted in the Hall of Fame today if it was resurrected? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos would likely be at the top of list.

Jenny Barry, Loyola University Chicago

[1] David Letterman, “Chicago Quiz on Letterman, May 2, 1989.” Late Night with David Letterman, May 2, 1989.

[2] “Construction of the Merchandise Mart Started,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 14, 1928, Chicago Tribune Historical Database.

[3] Al Chase, “Nearly 80% of World’s Largest Building Rented: Merchandise Mart Breaks Leasing Records,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 2, 1930,

[4] Ibid.

[1] “Field’s Sells Vast Mart to J.P. Kennedy: Price on Second Largest Building Not Given,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 22, 1945,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Philip Hampson, “Four Pioneer Merchants in Hall of Fame: Founder of Fields’s Honored at Mart,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1953,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Department Stores and Modern Retailing,” The Great Courses, 2013, Kanopy.

[10] Timothy E. Sullivan, “Field, Marshall (1834-1906), merchant,” in American National Biography. 1 Feb. 2000;

[11] Edward L. Lach, Jr., “Wanamaker, John (1838-1922), merchant,” in American National Biography. 1 Feb. 2000;

[12] Geoffrey Gneuhs, “Hartford, George Huntington (05 September 1833–29 August 1917), cofounder of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) grocery store chain,” in American National Biography. 1 Feb. 2000,

[13] Richard A. Hawkins, “Woolworth, Frank Winfield (1852-1919), retailer,” in  American National Biography. 1 Feb. 2000,

[14] Clayton Kirkpatrick, “Hoover Calls Nationalism Key to Liberty: Outlines Foreign Policy Guide,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1954.;  Larry Broutman, Chicago Monumental (Chicago, Illinois : Broutman Photography, LLC, [2016] [Chicago, Illinois] : Lake Claremont Press, a Chicago joint, an imprint of Everything Goes Media, LLC, 2016), p.92.

[15] Kirkpatrick, “Hoover.”

[16] Broutman, Chicago Monumental, p.92.

[17] William Clark, “Wood Named to Merchant Hall of Fame,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1955,

[18] Broutman, Chicago Monumental, p.92.

[19] Timothy J. Garvey, “Merchants as Models: The Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame and Changing Values in Postwar Chicago,” Illinois Historical Journal 88, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), p. 163,

[20] Lynn Taylor, “Dedicate Statuary: Honors for Ward’s Founder.” Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1972.

[21] Ibid.; Broutman, Chicago Monumental, p.92.

[22] Garvey, “Merchants as Models,” p. 169.

[23] David E. Koskoff,  Joseph P. Kennedy: A Life and Times (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974), p. 340-341.

[24] Garvey, “Merchants as Models”, p. 172.

[25] “Action Line.” Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1977.

[26] Michael Paul Wakeford, “Merchandise Mart.” In The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago,

[27] Ibid.

[28] Edward Keegan, “Rejuvenating theMART’s public realm,” Contract (July-August 2016), Gale General OneFile,

[28] Ibid.

[29] “Vornado’s theMart: Still relevant at 90,” States News Service (February 3, 2020), Gale General OneFile,


Banking on Baseball: The Legend We Call Ernie Banks

Image of Ernie Banks published in Chicago Sun Times

What makes someone beloved? Is that even something we can answer? I found myself asking this question about shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub,” as he was dubbed by Chicago newspaper writer Jim Enright, became Banks’ go-to nickname during his time with the Chicago Cubs [1]. He played his entire nineteen-year career in the Major League with the Cubs and stayed with them as a coach and ambassador after he retired from playing in 1971. Ernie Banks is the one player who “thoroughly and completely identified with the Cubs…[and] represented the franchise with class and enthusiasm” [2]. Despite his career as a player having ended nearly 50 years ago, Chicagoans of all ages seem to know and love Ernie Banks for what he represents as a person and baseball player.

Ernie Banks Statue outside Wrigley Field, dedicated on March 31, 2008

Teammates and non-teammates alike do not hesitate to express their appreciation for Banks. For that reason, on March 31, 2008, opening day for the Chicago Cubs’ baseball season, a statue was unveiled right outside the Clark street entrance to Wrigley Field of Ernie Banks. At the unveiling of his statue, other famous and well-respected baseball players including Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo spoke to highlight the spirit Ernie Banks embodied that made him the perfect ballplayer [3]. If you know Ernie Banks, you know his most-quoted phrase, “Let’s play two.” His love for the game and the Cubs, his incredible skill, and his positive energy are what drew people to him, even those who didn’t grow up watching him play. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Banks noted after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “Barack Obama gave it to me; he’d never seen me play!” [4]. But having a statue outside Wrigley Field showing him waiting for a pitch and engraved with his nickname, favorite phrase, and career accomplishments is a way for his legacy to live on and communicate to passersby who he was, what he did, and what he means to so many people.

With all the love Banks receives from fans past and present, one would think he grew up living and breathing Chicago and baseball. However, he grew up in Dallas, Texas and played football and basketball for his high school teams and softball on the community team. It was on the community softball team where Banks was recognized for his potential to play baseball as a career. In 1948, Bill Blair noticed seventeen-year-old Banks and recruited him for the Negro Baseball League. Blair was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro League in the late 1940s and at the time he saw Banks playing, he was scouting for new players in Amarillo, Texas.

The Negro Leagues was a product of the racial segregation that characterized America after the Civil War. According to Edward White, “[n]o stated policy or written rule existed that barred blacks from participating in Organized Baseball. It was nonetheless apparent that no blacks could participate” [5]. By 1903, segregated baseball leagues for whites and Blacks were firmly established. This did not change until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first person to break the color barrier. However, it took another twelve years for every team in the Major League to include Black players in their lineups, with the Boston Red Sox being the last team to sign a black player in 1959 [6].

Ernie Banks, who had played in the Negro League for the Kansas City Monarchs, broke the color barrier for the Chicago Cubs, as he was the first Black player they signed in 1953. He would go on to have an incredible career of hitting 512 home runs, hitting five grand slams in a single season (1955), setting a Major League record as a shortstop that same season by hitting forty-four homeruns in a season—then breaking his own record with forty-seven homeruns in 1958—and being the first National League player to be named MVP two years in a row (1958 and 1959) [7]. Banks accomplished all this without ever playing in a post-season game. Ernie’s nineteen years with the Cubs was during their 37-year losing streak that kept them from making it to the post-season. During Banks’ residency from 1953-1971, the Cubs hadn’t competed in the post-season since they lost to the Detroit Tigers in 1945 for the World Series, and it would still be another twelve years after Banks retired that the Cubs would make it to the League Championship Series, where they would lose to the San Diego Padres in 1984.

Perhaps that is what makes it even more remarkable that Ernie Banks is so beloved by Chicagoans despite their losing record throughout Banks’ career as a Chicago Cub. Being known and loved for his enthusiasm for a game and a team that could not seem to have a winning season for the entirety of his career is a remarkable quality and a testament to Banks’ character. Honoring Banks and his legacy with his statue outside the main entrance of the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field is a show of respect and appreciation of his positive devotion to the Cubs franchise throughout his life [8].

The outpouring of love for Ernie online and in print is undeniable. YouTube clips about Ernie or interviews with him always come with comments from viewers describing a memory of watching Ernie play, an interaction they had with him, or what he meant to them and their family. In books and articles about him, the authors always share the impact Banks had on their lives. A couple who both love the Cubs and live in Lakeview, even decided to name their dog after Ernie Banks and devote an Instagram page to @Erniethe_doodle.

@erniethe_doodle visiting his namesake outside Wrigley Field and playing ball. Permission for using these images granted by his owners.

Statues are built for a reason. The person embodied in the statue made an impact in some way and is therefore thought to be deserving of such immortalization to remind current and future generations of their accomplishments and worthiness of being remembered. With all the controversy and politicization surrounding other statues and monuments to long dead influencers of history, it is hard to imagine Ernie Banks’ statue could ever follow in those footsteps. His goodness has been recognized for over sixty years now, and his statue will continue to remind Chicago baseball fans what it means to love the game.

Melissa Newman, Loyola University Chicago

[1] Freedman, Lew. Ernie Banks: the Life and Career of “Mr. Cub.” (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019), 11.

[2] Freedman, 3.

[3] “Cubs Legend Banks Honored With Statue Outside Wrigley Field”. 2008. ESPN.Com.

[4] Chicago Tribune. “Mr. Cub.” 2014. YouTube video, 4:07. April 3, 2014.

[5] White, G. Edward. “The Negro Leagues” in Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953. Pp.128. Princeton University Press,

[6] Rapoport, Ron. Let’s Play Two: the Legend of “Mr. Cub,” the Life of Ernie Banks. (New York: Hachette Books, 2019), 71.

[7] “Banks, Ernest (Ernie).” Oxford African American Studies Center. 1 Dec. 2006; Accessed 22 Nov. 2020.

[8] Banks coined the now famous title that refers to Wrigley Field as “the Friendly Confines” after the Cubs were on the road for a while: “He was noting how good it felt to be home again for the Cubs’ next games.” Freedman, 4.

List of Images (in order of appearance):

Greenberg, Steve. 2020. “Touch ’em all, Ernie Banks: It’s the 50-year anniversary of home run No. 500 for Mr. Cub.” Chicago Sun-Times.

“Ernie Banks Statue.” Photographs taken by Erik Newman, November 14, 2020.

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Just chilling with my namesake, Ernie Banks. I wonder if one day they will put a statue of me next to his…” Instagram. April 25, 2017.

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Smile! It’s Friday! #itsthefreakinweekend” Instagram. November 2, 2018.

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Happy Opening Day!!! So excited for baseball to be back in Wrigley Field! Let’s go Cubbies!!” Instagram. April 9, 2018.