Philadelphia is known as a city of pioneers, with the very foundations of American democracy being laid here. As one of America’s oldest cities, Philadelphia is perhaps best known for its various historical sites. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that Philadelphia is also home to one of the country’s first major department stores, Wanamaker’s. While that business has since closed its doors, the old Wanamaker building is currently a Macy’s. However, you can still tour this piece of American history at the Visitor Center. Our Philadelphia adoption professionals think this is one of the most underrated historical sites in the city.
History of the Wanamaker Building
John Wanamaker first went into business after being declared ineligible to serve in the Civil War because of a persistent cough. He and his brothers first founded a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia called Oak Hall. Eventually, Wanamaker set his sights bigger and decided to bring a revolutionary department store to the city.
The Wanamaker’s Grand Depot opened just before the Philadelphia for the American Centennial Exposition of 1876. In 1877, the interior was renovated and expanded, with an expansion including the additions of women’s clothing and dry goods, in addition to the famous Wanamaker’s menswear.
Wanamaker’s was Philadelphia’s first department store and one of the first in the United States. Many of the business principles nearly universally followed by modern department stores began with John Wanamaker. he was the first to use the phrase “The customer is always right,” and was the inventor of the modern price tag. Prior to Wanamaker’s stores relied on haggling instead of set prices.
John Wanamaker was also notable for his great treatment of employees, offering free medical care, recreational facilities, profit-sharing plans, and pensions in an era where this was far from the norm.
The World’s Largest Musical Instrument
The Wanamaker building is also home to the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, which is the largest fully-functioning pipe organ on earth. Today, you can find the Wanamaker Organ in the 7-story court of the Wanamaker Building, which is today a Macy’s. The organ is played at least twice per day from Monday through Saturday. However, you can catch more frequent playings during the holiday season.
Each year, the Wanamaker Organ is also featured during several concerts, such as those featuring the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Festival Chorus and Brass Ensemble.
Touring the Wanamaker Today
Even though the Wanamaker Building has been converted into a Macy’s, you can still take guided tours and appreciate the history and gorgeous architecture of this 19th-century structure. Simply go to the Visitor Center on the third floor of Macy’s, next to the Gift Wrap section.