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On a history note | Remembering the Sears Roebuck catalog for Christmas

Washington Co., WI – A bunch of folks were reminiscing about Christmas and how years ago, you knew the season was around the corner when the shiny new Sears Roebuck catalog arrived in the mail. Wish lists were started, toys were circled, and you could officially begin dreaming about what you would find under the Christmas tree.

Below is a story originally published in 2009.

“There was everything in the Sears catalog from small toys to Lincoln logs, men’s coveralls, ladies’ lingerie and patent medicines,” said former West Bend alderman Tom O’Meara III qualifying that when the catalog was no longer interesting, it served as bathroom reading material and toilet paper.
“They sold just about everything and anything and they had a very, very wide selection,” said local historian Joe Huber recalling the Sears store in West Bend on the southwest corner of Main and Hickory where the Generations Christian Fellowship Church is now.
Huber was a model builder and often studied airplanes available in the Sears Roebuck catalog. “We had a comet zipper, comet clipper, there were gas powered planes that used to fly,” he said.
Virginia O’Meara of West Bend had seven boys. “Seven as in seven wonders of the world, which is what I always say when they’re not around,” cracked the spitfire O’Meara who begrudgingly remembered the Sears Roebuck catalog.
“It didn’t do those kids a damn bit of good,” she said matter of fact. “They didn’t tell us what they were going to get, we told them. Santa brought whatever he damn well pleased and could afford, OK!”
The tough cookie O’Meara did soften a bit, when her boys said they REALLY NEEDED a bolt action rifle. “These were wooden guns, they had bolt action, but they would only pretend shoot.” O’Meara said the kids saw the guns on television and the “calvary had that kind of weapon.”
O’Meara opined that mostly the Sears catalogs were for children to sit on when their seats were too low.
Kathy Lofy of West Bend said the Sears Roebuck catalog was about the size of a half a ream of paper. “We would just page through it incessantly,” said Lofy about the catalog which would be published early enough so kids could write their Christmas lists about 15 times and then go back to the book and start erasing and adding.
“We didn’t draw or write in it, but each of the five kids would get their shot and you would have your three-ring binder paper and pages of what you wanted. You went through the book 110,000 times and you were still changing it the night before Christmas because you thought if you kept changing it Santa would bring you what you wanted.”
Photo courtesy Steve Kissinger – Hickory and Main, future home of Sears
Lofy remembered when Sears Roebuck was trying to keep costs down and their new marketing campaign consisted of mailing post cards and families would take the card to the store to pick up their catalog.
“The Sears Roebuck catalog would start off with Christmas clothes and they’d have really fancy velvet dresses for the little girls and then it would be dotted with toys. But the second half of the book was all toys,” she said. “Your kids would write down what they wanted, and so it was a form of homework without being homework,” said Lofy remembering a list that extended three, sometimes four pages.
Click HERE to look at some vintage Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog covers
Some of the toys Sears made famous included the little kitchen with the lightbulb (Ez bake oven), slinkies, and Lite Brite but Lofy veered toward the traditional Barbie dolls.
“I wanted the Barbie dream house but instead I got the college campus because it was cheaper,” she said still carrying a tone of being totally destroyed at age nine. “I also wanted a Barbie doll, and my mother bought me a Midge doll. It had red hair with a flip,” said Lofy who was also crushed because she never got the Skipper doll.
In the Steffes household there were seven kids fighting over the dreamy colored pictures of toys in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Parents assigned time limits so each child could ogle gifts they would likely never get. “I think the best Christmas is when we ordered the Lone Ranger and Tonto dolls from the catalog and got the horses to go with each figure,” said my mother reiterating her passion for the toys and not being able to recall where they are today.
Christmas Roebuck
“When I was younger the Sears Roebuck catalog was nothing but a wish list,” said mom Steffes. “We only got one gift, because that’s all my parents could afford, and it was nothing we ever found in the catalog.”
Single gifts remembered included the book The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and another year a gift of a prince and princess dancing atop a music box. “We used to also have paper dolls, so when the Sears catalogs came out, we’d cut out the pictures of the clothes and put them on the dolls,” she said.
Younger brother John Steffes remembered gifts like the Planet of the Apes dolls and GI Joes. “I wanted the two-seater GI Joe helicopter but only got the one-seater, but I was happy with that,” he said touting how the ‘boy dolls’ were really well made. “They were so durable, you could launch them off the railing and they’d be free falling down a flight of stairs and they wouldn’t break, except sometimes their hands would come off.”
Al Steffes would fix them and bend a nail into a hook hand. “I’m surprised none of us ever lost an eye,” said John forgetting that Al was always at the ready with a pair of safety goggles.
What cherished memory do you have of the treasured Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog?
Wendy Wendorf

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