Number of locations
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, it became one of the first national hardware stores. A few months later, Stern withdrew and Tollner continued the business until 1859, moving in 1857 to 209 Bowery. In 1859, family friend Albert Hammacher invested $5,000 in the company and the name was changed to C. Tollner and A. Hammacher.
Early in the Civil War, 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 its own copper coins until the government ordered Hammacher & Tollner to cease.
During the 1860s, William Schlemmer gradually bought out Charles Tollner's stake in the company. When Tollner died in 1867, 26-year-old Schlemmer entered into a partnership with Hammacher and Peter F. Taaks. As a result, the company changed its name to Hammacher & Co. William Schlemmer had been actively involved with the business since 1853, when he had moved to New York City from Germany at age twelve and worked at the storefront. After a few years, Taaks resigned. Because 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 retailer to offer a number of products, such as the "Tourist Autokit," the pop-up toaster (1930), the electric toothbrush (1955), and the telephone answering machine (1968), in the United States.
Hammacher Schlemmer began printing and distributing a company catalog in 1881. In 1912, it printed its largest catalog to date, spanning 1,112 pages. A hardbound copy of the 1912 catalog is housed in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. By 1926, the Hammacher Schlemmer had moved uptown to a larger space at the company's present location of East 57th Street.
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.
Hammacher Schlemmer began prominently featuring new inventions in their catalog in the 1930s, beginning with the first pop-up toaster and portable radio in 1930. Other products included outdoor grills, several different types of coffee makers to rhinestone dog collars. In 1945, William F. Schlemmer died at the age of 67, leaving his wife, Else, in charge of the company. In 1948, Hammacher Schlemmer celebrated its 100-year anniversary with the introduction of the first automatic steam iron and the electric broom. Else did not give birth to children, and in 1952 she executed a will naming more than 100 Hammacher Schlemmer employees as beneficiaries. She died in 1955, leaving an estate worth approximately $473,000.
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 1960, Hammacher Schlemmer was sold to the Kayser-Roth Corporation. During the 1960s, Hammacher Schlemmer began selling the first Home Bowling Alley, London Taxi Cabs, and a “Nothing Box."
Dominic Tampone, who joined the company as a stock boy at age 15, was named President of Hammacher Schlemmer in 1962. Tampone created a wholesale division, Invento Products Corporation, as a subsidiary for invention and product development. Invento evolved into a clearinghouse for novel products, sourcing items from around the world and selling them under its own brand to retailers including Hammacher Schlemmer, Sears, and Neiman Marcus, generating annual sales of nearly $2.5 million.
Tampone held leadership position at Hammacher Schlemmer through two changes in corporate ownership--a 1975 sale to Conglomerate Gulf + Western Industries, Inc. acquired the company in 1975, and a subsequent sale to John Roderick MacArthur's Bradford Exchange Ltd. Inc. in 1980. Tampone died in 1982 as Vice-President.
In 1983, J. Roderick MacArthur created the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute as an independent but affiliated branch of the company, whose purpose is to comparatively test leading products. On December 15, 1984, MacArthur died and left the company to his heirs. By 2014, they sold Hammacher Schlemmer to the company's employees.
In 1988, Hammacher Schlemmer became one of the first retailers to sell products over the Internet with CompuServe, the first major commercial online service in the United States. From 1991 to 2001, Hammacher Schlemmer offered products through SkyMall, a now-defunct specialty catalog that was inserted into the seat back pocket of many airline seats. In 1995, America Online built Hammacher Schlemmer a store on the Internet (whereas it had previously sold products online via CompuServe).
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.
Hammacher Schlemmer first began as a hardware store at 221 The Bowery, where it remained from 1848 to 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 13th Street & Fourth Avenue, where Hammacher Schlemmer resided from 1904 to 1926.
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 variety of categories of consumer products.
In the 1980s, two additional stores were added to Hammacher Schlemmer, one in Chicago, Illinois (1984) and one in Beverly Hills, California (1986). 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 closed their doors in 2005, leaving only the landmark store in New York City. In November 2013, Hammacher Schlemmer celebrated its 165th anniversary by unveiling a completely new interior at its landmark Manhattan store. Built in 1926, this reimagined space now displays their signature collection of the Best, the Only and the Unexpected in open, brightly lit showcases. A selection of extraordinary exhibits - including a killer whale submarine and a hovercraft - are suspended from the ceiling. In 1999, a store was added at The Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami, Florida. It later closed.
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In 1935, Miss Palmer was hired as the store's first female salesperson and Lord Rothschild was among the first customers she waited on. Lord Rothschild left after spending $500 on merchandise, including a while goatskin blanket-and-pillow set for $350. When he got back to England, he called to order two more sets in pink. The British royal family have been regular visitors for years to the landmark New York store. In December 1954, the Queen Mother was in New York on the first leg of her unofficial tour through the United States and Canada and stopped by Hammacher Schlemmer to do some Christmas shopping. She selected an array of bar gadgets for the men on her holiday list, some clothing and accessories for her daughters, and toys for her grandchildren. While looking around at the china, glass, and decorative accessories that were placed around the store, the Queen said, "I can see that Christmas is not going to be any trouble." The Duke of Windsor also had a penchant for flashlights and bought them in every shape and variety. Other royal patrons have included the King and Queen of Spain and Princess Grace of Monaco.
In 1962, Hammacher Schlemmer and its New York Store began selling the first Home Bowling Alley and the "Nothing Box" (subsequently rechristened "The Something Box" to avoid confusion with a similarly named product) – a box that did nothing but flash lights in a random sequence. The novelty captured the fancy of The Beatles, who purchase hundreds of them as gifts.
Since the time of Herbert Hoover’s term in office, most U.S. presidents have visited Hammacher Schlemmer. Hoover seemed especially taken with Bar Accessories; Roosevelt favored their Jelly Molds; Eisenhower, and a world-famous rock group, liked their “Nothing Boxes” (they did nothing but flash lights in a random sequence) and Kennedy purchased an Electric Bed. Hammacher was often called in to repair that bed because "a certain young boy liked jumping on it!" Both Ladybird Johnson and Pat Nixon consulted Hammacher Schlemmer when renovating the closets in the White House.
In popular media
A 1902 article in The American Upholstery and Carpet Journal describes Hammacher Schlemmer's new location on 13th Street and Fourth Avenue 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 called "For The Man Of Extinction" 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 rubbing his fingerprints off of everything he touched. Roat said, "Highly recommended, by the way—and disposable—you buy them in enormous rolls from Hammacher Schlemmer."
The New Yorker magazine has published approximately four classic black-and-white Hammacher Schlemmer cartoons since 1924.
In the "360° Rotation" episode from Late Night with 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".
In the eleventh episode of the "second season" of the sitcom Frasier , "Seat of Power" : when asked by his father, Martin Crane, if even owns any tools at all; Frasier Crane shows off a multi-tool which Frasier says has, "every possible tool for every possible need" with turquoise inlay, which he says he purchased from Hammacher Schlemmer.
In a scene from Family Guy season 9, episode 18, "It's a Trap" (a parody of Return of the Jedi), Chris Griffin, disguised as Luke Skywalker, 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.
Season 5, episode 3, of the TV series Mad Men displays a Hammacher Schlemmer ad in one of the character's portfolios to demonstrate his creativity.
In season 6, episode 4, of the TV series The Office, Dwight Shrute says the Hammacher Schlemmer is considering selling his "Burger-on-the-go" device.
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 Michael Bloomberg proclaimed November 20, 2013 as "Hammacher Schlemmer Day" in honor of this event.
In a scene from season 3, episode 13, of The Middle, Brick 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.
In July 2015 on season 4, episode 16 of the TV series Impractical Jokers, Q and Murr pose as Hammacher Schlemmer salesmen in the New York store.
In a scene from season 3, episode 1, of Workaholics, Anders mentions Hammacher Schlemmer in reference to the ergonomic travel pillow around his neck that his boss Alice had told him to take off.
In 1881, Hammacher Schlemmer produced their first illustrated catalogue and price list which showcased products with the same care received as in the mahogany cases of the New York store. Intricate pen and ink drawings became the hallmark of Hammacher Schlemmer's hardware catalogs.
Hammacher Schlemmer published a 400-page catalog featuring tools for all trades in 1896. In keeping with its reputation for high quality and wide selection, the opening page stated, "Our tools are selected with great care and are of the best makes, and meritorious novelties will be, from time to time, added to our present line, our aim being to carry a complete stock of first-class tools."
The U.S. Navy began using the company's catalog as an equipment manual in 1904, and it was used until 1971.
In 1912, Hammacher Schlemmer printed its largest catalog to-date. Spanning 1,112 pages and taking a total of four years to compile, the catalog confirmed Hammacher as the most complete hardware source on the East Coast. One hardbound edition remains housed in the Smithsonian's permanent collection.
Hammacher Schlemmer published a 32-page brochure in 1923 to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Documenting the company's growth, as well as the corresponding expansion of New York City and the United States, the text closed with this inspiring quote by American author (and son of patriot Nathan Hale) Edward Everett Hale: "Look up-not down, Look out-not in, And lend a hand."
Hammacher Schlemmer began its "gnome" campaign in 1920 - an ad campaign that featured diligent little cartoon characters in the pages of its catalogs.
In 1931, Hammacher Schlemmer debuted its housewares supplement, the first catalog of its kind in the country, with a brightly colored, yet simply titled cover. These catalogs signaled a new era in their history as the old image of hardware and tools began to fade.
Hammacher Schlemmer's 125th anniversary edition in 1973 featured an assortment of unique kitchen and entertaining products from a "provision cabinet" with clear plastic containers to a gourmet serving cart with an integrated wine rack. Their signature gnomes within the catalog pages were replaced with tin man figurines. In a full-page letter on the opening spread, they reaffirmed their commitment to customer service, pledging to continue "loyal, dedicated, trained: bent upon serving you. Now as in 1848, things are on the move. We are in busy-ness now as we were 125 years ago, under our policy: COMPLETE SATISTACTION GUARANTEED."
In 1977, Hammacher Schlemmer printed its first full-color product catalog with their cover flanked by their ever-present gnomes.
Their 1983 Fall Catalog is the first to include ratings from the newly established Hammacher Schlemmer Institute. Using an "enstar" rating system (a blue seven-point star) products were awarded one, two, or three enstars depending on The Institute's evaluation. One Enstar designated a "Unique" product which not only effectively performed the task for which it was designed but does so in a markedly unique manner; two Enstars meant "Best of Kind", a product identified as the best performing in some specialized class within its overall category;three Enstars distinguished a product as "Best Overall" without qualification.
In 1998, the cover of Hammacher Schlemmer's 150th-anniversary catalog was graced by The Bertazzon Venetian Carousel, a full-sized fully functional carousel that sat twenty. Evoking the charm of 18th-century Venice, this carousel offered an Old World design complete with hand-rendered scenes of Venetian landmarks. Its six jumping horses, five rocking horses, and two chariots were all hand painted and the revolving platform is varnished, solid hardwood. Because each carousel was hand-built to order, it required five months for construction.
In a departure from their traditional cover presentation, the 2003 Holiday Preview catalog featured a cartoon that playfully acknowledged their reputation for offering unusual, and-on occasion-outlandish items.
In 2014, Hammacher Schlemmer introduced the first Augmented Reality Catalog, a new way to experience their products. Users had to scan specially marked catalog pages with their iPad to overlay a three-dimensional image of a product, spin the item 360 degrees, play videos, and more.
- Isadore, Barmash (1980-05-08). "Hammacher Schlemmer Sold to Illinois Collector" (PDF). The New York Times. New York. pp. D1.
- "Story of a Prosperous House". The Furniture Journal - Volume 21.
- "Retail Trade". Time Magazine. March 10, 1952. pp. 90–91.
- "Hammacher Schlemmer History". Hammacher Schlemmer.
- Isadore, Barmash (1989-04-10). "BUSINESS PEOPLE; Change by Hammacher Aims at Catalogue Sales". The New York Times. New York. pp. D1.
- Lee, Murphy H. (2005-04-15), "Gadget seller grows online", Crain's Chicago Business, 28 (16): 54
- MacDonald, Dwight (1939-07-08), "Metamorphic Merchant", The New Yorker, 15 (21): 54
- "Hammacher Schlemmer History". Hammacher Schlemmer.
- Joe Versus the Volcano, On The Set of New York (website). Accessed July 10, 2013