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Overview of the F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10¢ Store's first twenty-one years

1879-1900

Until January 2009 Woolworths was a big store-based company and a familiar name in High Streets across the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. The stores in Britain traded for almost a hundred years and most people would think they were as British as fish and chips. But the story started thirty years earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic where the chain traded from 1879 until 1997. Today there are still Woolworths store chains trading in countries around the world, including Germany, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Jamaica and Barbados, as well as a major website in the UK.

It all started with one man's dream and energy. Frank Woolworth created a business that revolutionised retailing across the world, working with his brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, and reuniting with his friends from his apprenticeship as a shop clerk. You can read the story here in the Woolworths Museum. It all began shortly after the Civil War. America was a new country with new frontiers and new opportunities.

Our 1800s Gallery explores the origins of Woolworths and lets you see what some of the first stores were like and take a look at the products that they sold.

The Augsbury and Moore Dry Goods Store in Watertown New York, pictured in 1873. This building was to become the birthplace of the Five and Ten
The Dry Goods Store of Augsbury and Moore, in Public Square, Watertown, New York, USA was the birthplace not only of the F. W. Woolworth Five and Ten Cent Stores, but also of the friendships and partnerships that helped the company take hold and prosper.

It was William Moore, the Proprietor, who gave a young Frank Woolworth his first job in Retail, who loaned him the money to open his first store, and who trained many of the Managers and Partners who went on to create Woolworths.

You can see the first store and read its story later in this Gallery. But first here's an overview and timeline showing how it all began.

 

April 13 1852 Frank W. Woolworth born in Rodman, Jefferson County, USA The first successful Five and Ten Cent Store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

February 1859 The Woolworth family buys a farm in Chestnut, near Great Bend
March 24 1873 Frank takes an unpaid apprenticeship at the Augsbury and Moore Dry Goods Store
February 22, 1879 The first ever Woolworth store opens in Utica, New York. It closed again in May.
June 21, 1879 Woolworth tries again with a successful store opening in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Opening day sales are $127.65 and he knows he has found a winning formula.
July 19, 1879 Frank's brother C. S. Woolworth joins to open a store in nearby Harrisburg The Woolworth Brothers' Great Five Five Cent Store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA. A ten cent range was added shortly after opening, effectively bringing the Five and Ten into existence.
November 6, 1880 Harrisburg replaced briefly by York then Scranton, managed by C.S. Woolworth
Jan 1881 & 82 C.S. Woolworth uses his profits to buy out his brother at Scranton over two years
Sept 10, 1884 C.S. Woolworth persuades his former Moore's co-worker Fred Kirby to partner him in opening a store in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It prospers after a rocky start.
Sept 20, 1884 Cousin Seymour Knox opens a store in Reading, PA with F. W. Woolworth
July 1887 Frank Woolworth opens a small Buying Office in Chambers Street, New York City The Knox and McBrier Five and Ten Cent Store in Lockport, New York, pictured in 1890
August 2, 1887 Fred Kirby buys out his partner to take full control in Wilkes-Barre
Sept 17, 1887 Frank Woolworth opens a store in Lockport, New York, jointly with Edwin McBrier
Autumn 1887 Woolworth opens a larger Buying Office with a Warehouse in Broadway, New York
1888-9 Knox buys his stores from Woolworth, and soon partners Earle P. Charlton
January 5, 1890 Woolworth promotes Store Manager Carson Peck to manage his growing office
February 19, 1890 Frank Woolworth sets sail to Europe on his first Buying Trip. He loves it and returns laden with merchandise that soon becomes a key differentiator for the Syndicate!
August 1891 Woolworth opens a larger store in Rochester, New York, to great acclaim The decorative sign showing the entrance of the F.M. Kirby Five and Ten Cent Store in Columbus, Ohio, pictured in around 1895.
1891 - 1894 F.W. and C.S. Woolworth, S.H. Knox, E.P. Charlton and F.M. Kirby enter a 'friendly rivalry', all opening five and ten cent stores, and stocking goods bought by Frank Woolworth. The buying syndicate helps them to outshine upstart dime store chains.
1895 Knox proves a city-centre format in Detroit that paves the way for many more
1899 Charlton sells F.W. Woolworth 9 stores and refocuses on Canada and the Rockies
November 1900 With 100 stores in the chain, Frank Woolworth celebrates with a 'skyscraper' - his own six storey retail, leisure and office development in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.