our constant desire to maintain our margin of
superiority by means of improvements and new
Alvah Curtis Roebuck, co-founder of Sears, Roebuck and Co.,
was born on January 9, 1864, in Lafayette, Ind., of English
When Alvah was three years old, his family moved to a farm
about five miles outside of Lafayette. It was there that Alvah
attended country school, and his mother took over the family
farm when her husband died in 1876.
At an early age, Alvah showed a great interest in mechanical
things, and at 16 he was already a self-taught watchmaker. When
he reached 22, Alvah secured a position in a small jewelry store
in Hammond, Ind. The following year, impatient to get ahead and
earn more money, he began scanning the help-wanted sections of
On April 1, 1887, Roebuck answered an advertisement for a
watchmaker in the Chicago Daily News, and two days later he
received a reply—Richard W. Sears 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. However, at
Richard Sears' request, he 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
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.
Then, in September of 1934, a Sears store manager asked Mr.
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.
Alvah Roebuck returned to his desk at company headquarters in
Chicago, where he enthusiastically assumed the task of
compiling a corporate history until his death on June 18, 1948.