Marshall Field

Marshall Field

American businessman
Date of Birth: 18.08.1834
Country: USA

Biography of Marshall Field

Marshall Field, an American businessman, was the founder of 'Marshall Field and Company', a chain of department stores in Chicago. He was born on August 18, 1834, on a farm in Conway, Massachusetts. Field's ancestors were Puritans who arrived in America in the mid-17th century.

At the age of 17, Field moved to Pittsfield in a neighboring county and found work in a fabric store. However, within a year, Marshall decided to venture out west, where entrepreneurial individuals had the opportunity to become wealthy. In 1856, at the age of 21, Field settled in Chicago and found a job at the trading company 'Cooley, Wadsworth and Co.'. In 1862, Field became a partner in the company, which was then renamed 'Farwell, Field & Co.'.

In January 1865, Field and his partner Levi Leiter were offered senior partnership in a new venture by Potter Palmer, called 'Field, Palmer, Leiter & Co.'. Just two years later, Field and Leiter bought out Palmer's share, and the company changed its name. Like many other Chicago businessmen, Field and Leiter suffered significant losses during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. However, they were able to quickly recover and reopen their stores. The company also easily survived the stock market crash of 1873 due to the minimal debts held by its owners.

By 1881, Field compelled Leiter to sell him his share of the business and became the sole owner of the company, renaming it 'Marshall Field and Company'. Field introduced innovative retail principles in his stores that became accepted industry standards over time. For instance, customers could always return or exchange items, a practice that was not common at the time. Field's employees did not pressure customers, unlike the prevailing practices of the era. The slogans 'Give the lady what she wants' and 'The customer is always right' fully encompassed the principles of Field's stores. Interestingly, the latter phrase may have been coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, who began his illustrious career at Marshall Field's.

Throughout his life, Field was cautious about labor unions and prohibited them among his employees. During the trial of the Haymarket Affair in 1886, the wives of the accused organized a plea for pardons, which many local businessmen were inclined to sign. However, Field did not support this plea. Some others who did not sign refrained from doing so because they did not want to publicly oppose Field, who was arguably the wealthiest and most influential person in the city.

On the other hand, Field avoided involvement in political and social intrigues and focused on his work, family, and philanthropy. In 1863, he married Nannie Douglas Scott, with whom he raised two children, Marshall Field Jr. and Ethel Field. Nannie passed away in 1896, and Field remarried Delia Spencer, a widow who had been a close friend for many years. After his death, a significant portion of his estate went to his two grandsons, the sons of Marshall Jr., although his children also inherited a considerable amount. In 1894, the Field Museum of Natural History was named in his honor after the philanthropist donated one million dollars to the museum. Interestingly, he initially had no intention of doing so, but he was convinced by the example of another prominent museum benefactor, railroad magnate Edward E. Ayer. Thanks to Field's and John D. Rockefeller's contributions, the private University of Chicago was established.

Field passed away on January 16, 1906, in New York City, from pneumonia he contracted while playing golf on January 1 with his nephew, secretary, and Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of the 16th President of the United States.