Urban Planning

Buying Happiness


A pioneer in advertising, John Wanamaker opened his first store in Philadelphia in 1876. He later moved the store to the location in this photograph, the site of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Depot (seen on the right). This new store, the “Grand Depot,” was the first department store in the city, and at one time also the city’s largest store. It was billed as “the largest space in the world devoted to retail selling on a single floor.”

Unlike the owners of other stores, Wanamaker used a great deal of advertising to gain customers. He ran ads and columns in newspapers, advertising not only the goods he had for sale, but what could be done with these goods and telling stories about where they came from.

Wanamaker’s Department Store is also a famous example of the emergence of shopping as a form of entertainment. Not only could shoppers come to the store knowing exactly what they wanted, thanks to the advertisements they read, but they could also take in the shopping experience. Wanamaker’s store was among the first stores to use electric lights to illuminate its interiors. Shoppers could also listen to music from the second largest organ in the world, installed during the store’s 1911 expansion.