February 10, 2007

Hart, Schafner & Marx

And the men behind the brand are...
Joseph Schaffner and Harry Hart and Max Hart

In 1887 Joseph Schaffner stopped in the shop of two of his close friends, Chicago clothiers Harry and Max Hart. He was seeking career advice. After seventeen years of bookkeeping in the credit business Schaffner was contemplating a new opportunity in Minnesota, a total departure from his accounting work.
Before making such a radical change, the Harts suggested, why don’t you
come into business with us?

Harry Hart, then 21, and his brother Max, 18, had been selling men’s clothing since 1872 when they pooled $2700 their father had saved from their teenage days as delivery boys to start a mens store. The Harts figured that Chicago’s estimated 100,000 homeless after the Great Fire of 1871 would need to be clothed. Within three years they were successful enough to open a second store and began manufacturing suits for other retailers.

The Harts brought brothers-in-law Levi Abt and Marcus Marx into the business in 1879 and it was Abt who Schaffner would be replacing in the team’s management. Schaffner, the life-long bookkeeper was, incongruously, a literary man at heart. With Hart Schaffner & Marx he supervised the firm’s sales letters with such eloquence that when an anthology of Selected English Letters was published years later one of the firm’s sales letters was included alongside those of Jonathan Swift, Abraham Lincoln and others.

Schaffner’s literary bent led inevitably to the industry’s first national clothing ads in 1897. The industry was not impressed and it was years before other clothiers joined Hart Schaffner and Marx in print. Schaffner’s illustrated ads were supported by moralistic books he penned on “Courage” and “Enthusiasm.” Many booklets didn’t even include the company in the copy.

Hart Schaffner and Marx assumed industry leadership in other areas as well.
At a time when salesmen of the day lugged as many as twenty wardrobe trunks of samples into accounts, Hart Schaffner and Marx salesmen switched to displaying fabric swatches. They pioneered standard pricing with no discounts for favored customers. A Hart Schaffner and Marx suit was the first to be guaranteed to be 100% wool when it said 100% wool. In 1906 Hart Schaffner and Marx identified 14 basic body types with led to the creation of 250 specialty sizes in suits.

It seems the Harts had given Joseph Schaffner excellent career advice a generation before.


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