Before Online Shopping, There Were Mail-Order Toys

The Charles William Stores

New York City

The Charles William Stores of New York City were first established in 1913 as an expansion of the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward and Co. The Chicago mail-order catalog business was originally founded in 1872, and after successful exploits supplying city merchandise to rural farmers, the endeavor expanded to New York City taking on the name Charles William. While the Charles William Stores were purchased a mere fifteen years later, mail order catalogs, like the images below, had a significant impact on the American way of life.

Starting in the late nineteenth through the majority of the twentieth century, mail order catalogs supplied rural Americans with almost all of their daily essentials and some fun leisure-time supplies, too. Catalogs like the Charles William Stores Bargain Book, the Montgomery Ward and Co. Wish Book, and the Sears-Roebuck Catalogue completely changed how late nineteenth and early twentieth century Americans shopped. While deliveries only made it as far as the local train station, this greatly increased access to a variety of products. In a modern parallel, consider how Amazon has reshaped modern shopping (physical stores to online browsing).

These twentieth century mail order catalogs made a huge impact on all of society, even children! Toy shopping for the first time was available at home. Check out some of the toys they may have ordered from this 1920 catalog! What would you buy…?


Toy Selection

Click on each below image to learn the history of each twentieth century toy including how to play!

Test Your Knowledge to Earn $$

Time to Shop

Imagine yourself as a boy or girl living in 1920 New York City or on a rural farm…You’ve been waiting for the latest Charles William Stores Bargain Book to arrive and it’s finally here! You have $2.00 saved up from doing chores all year long and you’re allowed to buy any of the above toys. What would you buy? Make sure you have enough money for the items you select!


Take Home Catalogs

Select a below printable activity to continue the fun!

Mail Order Toys Shopping Activity

Color & Cut Out Dolls


Create Your Own Checkers

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PA Education Standards: Grade 3

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