Hammacher Schlemmer

Founded in 1848, Hammacher Schlemmer is an established retailer and cataloger specializing in high-quality, innovative and unique products. Hammacher Schlemmer is now the oldest continuously published catalog in the United States — with annual catalog circulation exceeding 30 million.


In 1848, Hammacher Schlemmer opened its doors in the Bowery district of New York City as a hardware store specializing in hard-to-find tools. Mr. William Tollner was the sole proprietor of this establishment — one of the first national hardware stores. In 1853, Tollner’s nephew and part of the company’s namesake, William Schlemmer, arrived from Germany and began to work at the store. It was also around this time that a German investor and friend of the family, Alfred Hammacher, decided to invest $5,000 into the company.

As the Civil War spread across the country, a severe coin shortage was experienced in New York City, making 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, now called Hammacher & Tollner, began distributing their own copper coins until the shortage ended.

By 1867, William Schlemmer had purchased his uncle’s share of the business and became a partner in the company, whose name changed to Hammacher & Co. In 1878, Hammacher & Co. was among the first companies to install a telephone in their store, as well as one of the original subscribers to the Bell Telephone Directory. Hammacher Schlemmer was also one of the first stores in the country to have electric lighting in the showroom.

The year 1881 marked the first known printing and distribution of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and by 1883, the present name, Hammacher Schlemmer, came into use. By the turn of the century, the business moved uptown to larger quarters.

Merchandise was added to meet consumer demand. With pianos the favored parlor instrument, Hammacher Schlemmer began selling piano parts to piano makers throughout the country — twenty boxcar loads a year went to one customer, Kimball Brothers. The store also opened up the first auto department and the first home delivery service via automobile, at a time when there were only 600 "horseless carriages" on the streets of New York City.

In 1912, Hammacher Schlemmer printed its largest catalog to date, spanning 1,112 pages. One hardbound edition is now housed in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. By 1926, Hammacher Schlemmer moved once again, into its present location at 147 East 57th Street. This new location put the store in proximity to Manhattan’s most elegant residential neighborhoods. These new patrons wanted luxury items, so hardware was relegated to the basement and esoteric gadgetry and gizmos were added to the shelves.

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.

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. However, the 1970s brought a return to the specialized gadgetry Hammacher is known for today.

In 1983, the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute was created as an independent but affiliated branch of the company, whose purpose is to comparative 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 "Hammacher Schlemmer Way".

Retail Stores

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.

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 and one in Beverly Hills. Both were later closed.

The Hammacher Schlemmer Institute

In 1983, the Hammacher Schlemmer Institute was created as an independent, but affiliated, branch of the Hammacher Schlemmer Company whose sole purpose was to comparative test top-of-the-line products. Products are tested under laboratory conditions, home- or field-tested according to rigid methodology and standards.

From a reasonably wide range of competing products, analysts select the ones that are superior using a variety of test methods including their own expertise, nationally accredited laboratories, experts and consultants, and a customer testing group. After comparison testing of products within a specific category — personal care items, electronics, air quality items, home goods — the model receiving the highest rating based on superior function, ease of use and quality is awarded the Institute’s coveted “Best” rating.


Year First
1862-1863 Was one of the first companies to issue “Rebellion Tokens” during the Civil War
1878 Among first 271 subscribers listed in New York City Bell Telephone directory
1896 One of the first in the country to have electric lighting in showroom
1899 First home delivery service driven by automobile
1930 Pop-Up Toaster
1930 Portable Radio
1931 First houseware catalog (first for Hammacher, and first of its kind in the country)
1934 Electric Dry Shaver
1934 Waring Blender (in the 30s Fred Waring created this unusual device because his wife’s illness meant that she could only eat mashed foods)/Electric Food Processor
1935 Miss Palmer is the first female salesperson at the store on 57th Street
1948 Automatic Steam Iron
1948 Electric Broom
1955 First Electric Toothbrush
1961 Home Bowling Alley
1961 “Nothing Box”
1968 “Telephone Valet”- Answering Machine
1968 Radarange Microwave Oven
1971 Cordless Telephone
1973 Mr. Coffee
1976 Cuisinart Food Processor
1977 First full color catalog for Hammacher Schlemmer
1994 Integrated Caller ID & Digital Answering Machine
1998 Recordable Compact Disc Player
Hand-Held Paperless Fax Viewer
Electric Can Opener
Stainless Steel Kitchenware
Schick Razor
Salton Hotray
Home Freezer
Mechanical Ice Crusher
Plug-In Intercom
Card Shuffler
Martini Mixer
Battery-Operated Radio
Battery-Operated Toothbrush

External links

* [http://www.hammacher.com/ Hammacher Schlemmer Homepage]
* [http://www.hammacher.com/about_us/history.asp Company History]



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