Richard Warren Sears was born on December 7, 1863, in Stewartville, Minnesota. He was the son of James Warren and Eliza A. Sears, both of English ancestory. His father led anything but a happy life. He had failed in his quest for gold during the California Gold Rush of 1849 and was a bitter soldier in the Civil War, which he blamed on politicians. He had earned a sizable sum of money working as a blacksmith and a wagonmaker, but he lost it all in a stock-farm venture. Richard's father gave up soon afterwards, leaving Richard to be the family breadwinner at the age of 16.
Richard worked in the general offices of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in Minneapolis to support his family. He then decided to move Redwood Falls, Minnesota, where he thought that he could earn more money because of the small town setting. There he worked as a station attendant, doing chores for his board and sleeping in the loft of the railroad station. In his spare time, he learned how the mail-order business worked.
Richard got his opportunity to get into the mail-order business in 1886 when a shipment of watches from a Chicago wholesaler was refused by a town jeweler. Therefore, the shipment sat in the railroad station until Richard contacted the wholesaler, who offered him the watches for twelve dollars each. He bought the watches and sold them by sending letters to other station attendants describing the watches and offering them at the discount price of fourteen dollars each. He sold those watches and ordered more to sell. To sell these he advertised in a small way in St. Paul newspapers. He made a large profit from this operation.
In a few months Richard made such a profit that he abandoned the railroad business entirely and started his own mail-order business under the name of the R.W. Sears Watch Company. In one year he made so much money that he was able to begin advertising in magazines with a...