Hammacher Schlemmer

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Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. Inc.
Industry Retail
Founded  1848 (1848-MM)
Founder Charles Tollner
Headquarters New York City, New York, United States
Number of locations
Website www.hammacher.com
57th Street shop

Hammacher Schlemmer /ˈhæməkər ˈʃlɛmər/ is an American catalog founded in 1848. The company provides unique products that solve problems or represent the only one of their kind Headquarters are based in New York City, New York and they have an annual catalog circulation exceeding 30 million. The company is owned by the heirs of J. Roderick MacArthur, the founder of the Bradford Exchange, who purchased Hammacher Schlemmer in 1980.[1]


Hammacher Schlemmer began as a hardware store specializing in hard-to-find tools in the Bowery district of New York City in 1848. Owned by proprietors Charles Tollner and Mr. R Stern,[2] it became one of the first national hardware stores. A few months later, Stern withdrew and Toller continued the business until 1859, moving in 1857 to 209 Bowery. In 1859, family friend Alfred Hammacher invested $5,000 into the company and the name was changed to C. Tollner and A. Hammacher.

As the Civil War spread across the country, a severe coin shortage in New York City made it nearly impossible for retailers to make change for their customers. In response to this shortage, the United States government allowed merchants to mint their own coins, known as "rebellion tokens" or "copperheads". The store, at that point called Hammacher & Tollner, began distributing their own copper coins until the shortage ended.

Throughout the 1860s, William Schlemmer gradually bought out Charles Tollner's stake in the company. When Tollner died in 1867, 26-year-old Schlemmer enters into a partnership with Hammacher and Peter F. Taaks. As a result, the company changes its name to Hammacher & Co. William Schlemmer had been actively involved with the business since 1853 when he moved to New York City from Germany at age twelve and worked at the storefront. After a few years Taaks resigned and since Schlemmer owned a greater portion of the company, the name was changed in 1883 to the present style of Hammacher Schlemmer & Co.

Hammacher Schlemmer was among the first companies to install a telephone in their store, as well as one of the original subscribers to the Bell Telephone Company Directory. Hammacher Schlemmer was also the first to offer Americans such wonders as the pop-up toaster (1930), the electric toothbrush (1955), and the telephone answering machine (1968).

The year 1881 marked the first known printing and distribution of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and by 1912 it printed its largest catalog to date, spanning 1,112 pages that confirmed that Hammacher Schlemmer as the most complete hardware source. One hardbound edition is now housed in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. By 1926, the business moved uptown to larger quarters at the present location of East 57th Street.

As furniture designs and luxury in sofas, chairs and footstools becomes more popular, Hammacher Schlemmer introduces a new Upholstery Goods department, stocking special tools and materials allowing upholsterers to answer fashion's demands. Hammacher resigned in 1892, leaving the whole company to Schlemmer serving as the President and Treasurer and his son William F. Schlemmer, to be named Vice President several years later.

The 1930s began Hammacher Schlemmer’s long history of showcasing new inventions in the pages of their catalog. Beginning with the first pop-up toaster and portable radio in 1930, Hammacher Schlemmer went on to garner a reputation for introducing products that were the first of their kind — oddities that went on to be regarded as household necessities. Customers could get every nicety of modern living - from varieties of outdoor grills, several different types of coffee makers to rhinestone dog collars.[3] In 1945, William F. Schlemmer died at the age of 67, leaving his wife, Else, in charge of the company. Else made a will in 1952 that left more than 100 employees beneficiaries since she had no children to leave it to in which totaled to $473,000 when she died in 1955. In 1948, Hammacher Schlemmer celebrated its 100-year anniversary with the introduction of the first automatic steam iron and the amazing electric broom.

After more than 100 years as a family-held business, Hammacher Schlemmer was sold in 1953 to a group of investors and eventually turned over to John Gerald. In the 1960s, Hammacher Schlemmer offered products that had never been available for home purchase, including a regulation-sized bowling alley and restored London taxi cabs. Dominic Tampone was named President of Hammacher Schlemmer in 1962 and initiated a wholesale operation, Invento Products Corporation, as a subsidiary for inventing and product development in which generated annual sales of nearly $2.5 million.[4]

In 1983, the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute was created by J. Roderick MacArthur, the CEO of the company, as an independent but affiliated branch of the company, whose purpose is to comparatively test top-of-the-line products. Later, in 1988, Hammacher Schlemmer became one of the first retailers to go on the Internet with CompuServe, the first major commercial online service in the United States. In 1995, America Online built Hammacher Schlemmer a store on the Internet. By 1998 Hammacher Schlemmer launched their own website, Hammacher.com. That same year, Hammacher Schlemmer celebrated its 150th anniversary. As a tribute, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani renamed the block on 57th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue as Hammacher Schlemmer Way.

Retail stores[edit]

Hammacher Schlemmer first began as a hardware store at 221 The Bowery, where it remained from 1848-1859. It later moved to 209 The Bowery, remaining from 1859 to 1904.

The famous yellow fever plague of 1822, ascribed to impure water, desolated lower Manhattan and caused business and terrified inhabitants to move out of town to Greenwich Village. As there was no individual water supply, water was furnished by numerous wells with pumps — some in the middle of Broadway. “Choice” water was carted around in large casks by hucksters. At last an extensive “reservoir” was planned, and in 1836, a well one hundred and twelve feet deep and sixteen feet in diameter distributed water through twenty-five miles of mains to two thousand homes. It was located on the exact spot where Hammacher Schlemmer resided from 1904-1926 — 13th Street & Fourth Avenue.

The “New York & Harlem Railroad” passed the 13th Street location of Hammacher on the street that at the time was called the Bowery. The railroad continued to White Plains. The fashionable school of William Forrest (later known as Forrest and Quackenbos) — where many well-known New Yorkers of past generations were educated — was located down the street.

Inside of the New York City store at Christmastime.

From here, the company moved into its present location at 147 East 57th Street, in 1926. Located on the site of the famous Huntington Stables and near Park Avenue, the modern twelve-story building has housed hardware, gifts, housewares, bath, dressing room and closet furnishings, kitchen and fireplace equipment, furniture and a vast array of the gadget and gizmos that Hammacher Schlemmer is known for.

In the 1980s, two additional stores were added to Hammacher Schlemmer, one in Chicago, Illinois (1984) and one in Beverly Hills, California (1986).[5] With the web-based side of Hammacher becoming such a productive aspect of the company - with online sales increasing at a rate of 30% each year - both the Chicago and Beverly Hills stores close their doors in 2005, leaving only the landmark store in New York City.[6] In 1999, a store was added at The Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami, Florida. It later closed.

In popular media[edit]

To help motorists reduce their repair bills, Hammacher Schlemmer offers the tourist autokit, "the highest type of repairing outfit procurable". The kit contains 38 tools for both permanent and emergency use, "conveniently packed in a strong, leather-edged canvas roll."

An article in The American Upholstery and Carpet Journal describes Hammacher Schlemmer's new quarters in glowing terms. "Architecturally, the structure is imposing and thoroughly in keeping for the purposes intended. One of the most noticeable features is the really magnificent show windows on the Fourth Avenue side. These are furnished in the finest paneled mahogany, highly polished, and the display of tools in them does not fail to attract the attention of the veriest layman."

Howard Dietz composed a show tune entitled "Hammacher Schlemmer, I Love You" for his Broadway musical "The Little Show" (1929).

Yip Harburg, who wrote all of the lyrics to The Wizard of Oz, wrote a poem about Hammacher Schlemmer which was later recorded by the Mitchell Trio in 1960, called Rhymes for the Irreverent.

The movie Wait Until Dark (1967) with Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna made a reference to Hammacher Schlemmer's disposable gloves when Roat was cleaning up.

The Wall Street Journal made a profile on Hammacher Schlemmer in May 1977 described as a visionary retail store for "its ability to spot new gadgets before progress turns them from luxuries into neccessities."[7]

The New Yorker magazine has published 70,363 classic black-and-white Hammacher Schlemmer cartoons since 1924.

In the 360° Rotation Episode from David Letterman in 1986, a few unusual Christmas gifts from Hammacher Schlemmer were showcased, including the Face-Down Lounger.

The New York Times wrote a feature article on Hammacher Schlemmer on November 26, 1987 called The Hammacher Gadgeteers.

The New York store was featured in a scene from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), during which the title character played by Tom Hanks visits the store to be outfitted for an exotic trip.[8]

In a scene from the Family Guy episode It's a Trap (a parody of Return of the Jedi) one of the characters calls Hammacher Schlemmer to order a wall-sized crossword puzzle.

In a scene from the 2006 movie, Beerfest, two of the characters are named Hammacher and Schlemmer, respectively.

In 2012, a popular Tv series called Mad Men displays a Hammacher Schlemmer ad in one of the character's portfolios to demonstrate his creativity.

In 2013, the unveiling of the New York store attracted a variety of celebrities, media representatives, and dignitaries who attended a gala celebration that received extensive coverage from the New York Magazine, The Today Show, Fortune, and Bloomberg News. Mayor Micheal Bloomberg proclaimed November 20, 2013 as "Hammacher Schlemmer Day" in honor of this event.

In a scene from season 3 of The Middle, Sue pesters Frankie about buying two of the floating beverage book holders from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.

On July 24, 2015, Robert Klein performed stand up comedy on The Tonight Show and referenced Hammacher Schlemmer during his performance.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Isadore, Barmash (1980-05-08). "Hammacher Schlemmer Sold to Illinois Collector". The New York Times (New York). pp. D1. 
  2. ^ "Story of a Prosperous House". The Furniture Journal - Volume 21. 
  3. ^ "Retail Trade". Time Magazine: 90–91. March 10, 1952. 
  4. ^ "Hammacher Schlemmer History". Hammacher Schlemmer. 
  5. ^ Isadore, Barmash (1989-04-10). "BUSINESS PEOPLE; Change by Hammacher Aims at Catalogue Sales". The New York Times (New York). pp. D1. 
  6. ^ Lee, Murphy H. (2005-04-15), "Gadget seller grows online", Crain's Chicago Business 28 (16): 54 
  7. ^ "Hammacher Schlemmer History". Hammacher Schlemmer. 
  8. ^ Joe Versus the Volcano, On The Set of New York (website). Accessed July 10, 2013

Coordinates: 40°45′39″N 73°58′7″W / 40.76083°N 73.96861°W / 40.76083; -73.96861