Sears, Roebuck and Company was founded in 1893. Its predecessor, the R.W. Sears Watch Company, had been established in 1886 when Richard Warren Sears received a shipment of watches from a Chicago-area jeweler and sold them to fellow railroad station agents. Sears proceeded to quit his job, hire Alvah C. Roebuck as a watch repairman and move the business to Chicago. Sears sold the company in 1889, then started A.C. Roebuck, Inc. in 1892.
A.C. Roebuck, Inc. changed its name to Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1893 and began selling not only watches but also sewing machine, bicycles, sporting goods and many other items. The 1894 catalog was 322 pages. In 1895, the company's catalog expanded to include major appliances such as stoves, refrigerators and iceboxes. It also began selling groceries.
Roebuck left the company in 1895; Sears retired as president in 1908. Julius Rosenwald, who had been initially brought on as a financial partner after Roebuck's departure, became the company's chairman of the board. After his death in 1924, Rosenwald's son Lessing succeeded him as chariman.
The Rosenwalds brought significant change to the company and slowly guided it away from the mail order business that it had begun as. These changes were driven by the pragmatism of both Julius and Lessing. Julius diversified product lines and improved the company's annual sales from $750,000 to over $50 million. Lessing led the charge behind the company's shift from predominantly a mail order business to a department store. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Sears established urban department store locations and from the 1950s to the 1970s, Sears expanded into suburban markets and malls.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, there was significant turnover within the company, and five different men chaired the company's board between 1954 and 1967.