“It was our constant desire to maintain our margin of superiority by means of improvements and new inventions.”
Lafayette, Indiana-born Alvah Roebuck began work as a watchmaker in a Hammond, Indiana, jewelry store at age 12. On April 1, 1887, he answered an advertisement for a watchmaker in the Chicago Daily News, and two days later he received a reply from Richard Warren Sears, who wanted to hire him. Thus began the association of two men who would soon form one of the world’s best-known business partnerships. The firm was incorporated as Sears, Roebuck and Company in 1893.
In 1895, Roebuck asked Sears to buy him out for about $20,000. Later when asked about his ex-partner’s great wealth, and Roebuck’s own modest wealth Roebuck replied: “He’s dead. Me, I never felt better.”
At Richard Sears’ request, Roebuck took charge of a division that handled watches, jewelry, optical goods, and, later, phonographs, magic lanterns and motion picture machines. His business interests did not end with Sears. He later organized and financed two companies: a manufacturer and a distributor of motion picture machines and accessories. Roebuck also served as president (1909–1924) of Emerson Typewriter Company, where he invented an improved typewriter, called the “Woodstock.”
After several years in semi-retirement in Florida, the financial losses he suffered in the stock market crash of 1929 forced Roebuck to return to Chicago. By 1933, Roebuck had rejoined Sears, Roebuck and Co., where he largely devoted his time to compiling a history of the company he helped found.
In September 1934, a Sears store manager asked Roebuck to make a public appearance at his store. After an enthusiastic public turnout, Mr. Roebuck went on tour, appearing at retail stores across the country for the next several years.