Descriptive inventory for the Carson Pirie Scott records, ca. 1869-1988, bulk 1925-1977

Carson Pirie Scott records

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Descriptive inventory for the Carson Pirie Scott records, ca. 1869-1988, bulk 1925-1977

Prepared by Courtney Herman and Dominique Tremblay, 2009.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: Carson Pirie Scott records, ca. 1869-1988 (inclusive), 1925-1977 (bulk)
Creator: Carson Pirie Scott
Dates: ca. 1869-1988 (inclusive), 1925-1977 (bulk)
Accession number: 2007.0026.1
Bib number: 00209408
Call number: MSS Lot C
Size: 11.5 linear feet (16 boxes)
Language of material:Collection is written in English.

Provenance statement:

Gift of Carson Pirie Scott (2007.0026.1).

Terms governing use:

Copyright may be retained by the creators of items, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law, unless otherwise noted.


This collection is open for research use.

Please cite this collection as:

Please cite this collection as Carson Pirie Scott records (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Related material:

Photographs of the families of the founders and of the central CPS store building. Architectural records for Schlesinger and Mayer store building; and publications cataloged individually about the store and the founders' families.

Separated material:

Separated materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Carson, Pirie, Scott, and Co. photograph collection (2007.0026.2).

Collection Summary +/-

Correspondence, biographical information on company officials, corporate histories, timelines, and newspaper clippings; financial records on real estate, stock, and salary and pension plans; and marketing materials and floor plans of the Chicago department store chain, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. This collection is arranged into three series. Series 1, Events and milestones, includes real estate leases, company reorganization in the 1930s, changes in compensation plans, and adaptation to federal guidelines during World War II. Series 2, Founders and executives, includes biographical information, some ledgers, and a few items that belonged to the founding families. Series 3, Other materials, includes marketing items and floor plans.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

The department store chain known as Carson Pirie Scott (CPS or Carson's) originated in 1854, when Samuel Carson and John T. Pirie immigrated to Illinois from Northern Ireland and opened a dry goods store in La Salle, Illinois, with items acquired from friends who already owned a dry goods store in Peru, Illinois. The first store called Carson and Pirie opened the following year in 1855 in Amboy, Illinois. In 1856, Samuel Carson recruited family friends George and Robert Scott from Ireland to come to America to work in the Amboy store. In the next three years, Carson and Pirie opened branches of their store in neighboring towns, such as Mendota, Galena, Polo, and Sterling.

In 1864, Carson and Pirie decided to leave retailing and go into wholesaling. They moved their headquarters to Chicago at 20 Lake Street. Three years later Carson and Pirie re-entered the retail world and opened their first Chicago store at 136 Lake Street. The store was managed by a Scottish immigrant whom Samuel Carson met in church, named Andrew MacLeish. MacLeish soon partnered with Carson and Pirie, and the store became Carson, Pirie & Co. MacLeish continued to be active in the company until his death in 1928.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the Lake Street stores, forcing the wholesale and retail stores to move to temporary locations. But it continued, and in 1890 a new partner was brought into the store's ownership. He was Robert Scott, a son of the earlier employee. By 1891, the retail store was housed in a building at State Street and Washington Street, and both the wholesaling and retail operations claimed the same name: Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co.

In 1899, Schlesinger and Mayer department store commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design a building for it on the corner of State Street and Madison Street in Chicago. In 1904, one year after the building was completed, H. Gordon Selfridge bought Schlesinger and Mayer in its entirety. He then sold the building and leasehold to Otto Young and sold the retail business to Carson Pirie Scott.

When Carson's discovered that its lease on the building at State Street and Washington Street would not be renewed after 1906, Carson's made plans to develop the building at the corner of State Street and Madison Street.

In 1906, Otto Young, the building owner, announced that he would add a twelve-story addition to the State and Madison building, and Carson's signed a 28-year lease beginning in 1907 for the property. Also in 1907 John H. Wood, Andrew MacLeish's nephew, succeeded him as general manager.

In 1927, CPS opened a men's store at the corner of Wabash Street and Monroe Street, and a bridge connected all floors to the State Street store. During the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the store managed to stay afloat and worked with the Chicago District Retail Recovery Board to help relieve some of the tensions of that period.

In the first half of the 1940s America's war economy affected many divisions of Carson's. It was decided in 1942 that the wholesaling business that first brought CPS to Chicago would be liquidated. However, the Wholesale Floor Coverings division was slated to remain open because it was still producing revenue, and it moved to the Merchandise Mart building in 1943. The liquidation of the wholesale division to the United States Government was finalized in 1945. Carson's also worked in conjunction with the U.S. Office of Price Administration and the Emergency Price Control Act to maintain its retail business and a strong customer base during the war years.

In 1945, R.H. Macy Co. offered to buy Carson's. Macy's attempt to acquire the company was fueled by rumor and gossip in the media. Eventually, an offer was made and agreements were drawn up; but members of the Scott family, the Pirie family, and the MacLeish family voted their stock shares as a block to oppose the sale.

The post-war years saw major changes within the corporation. Carson's lease for the State and Madison building was renegotiated with the Otto Young Estate and its trustee First National Bank. The new lease called for renovation expenses that totaled 1.2 million dollars from the estate and 3 million dollars from the company. In 1946, the three families retired half of their preferred stock to diversify their investment portfolios. To raise the funds for renovation, Carson Pirie Scott went public and offered 50,000 preferred shares to be sold. Also in 1946, the company created new profit-sharing and pension plan programs for its employees.

The 1950s at CPS included the beginning of retail branch openings in the Chicagoland area and the store's centennial in 1954. Several centennial celebration dinners were held to mark this accomplishment unmatched by any other department store. By 1960, over 20 stores had been opened by the Chicago Stores division and the Peoria Stores division.

During the 1960s, CPS sought ways to expand the business into other areas. It entered the food and hospitality arena by purchasing hotels, country clubs, and airport restaurants. Business slowed, however, on March 29, 1968, when a fire broke out at the State Street store. The store reopened five days later with thirty percent of selling areas operating. The damage was extensive, and some areas of the store were closed for up to six months. In 1970, the building on State and Madison Streets was declared an official Chicago landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The decade of the 1970s was a time of expansion and events. CPS maintained its status as a retail giant in the Midwest. It also served as a consultant for bridal wear for Robert Altman's production of the film, "A Wedding," with many scenes shot in the Chicago area.

Carson's was acquired by P.A. Bergner & Co. in 1989; and during the next several years, the company's owner and the owners' names changed several times while the chain of stores continued to operate as Carson Pirie Scott. In 2006, Carson's was acquired by the Bon-Ton Stores, Inc.. The historic State Street store building had been sold to a separate owner in 2001, and the downtown Chicago Carson's store that it housed closed its doors on Feb. 21, 2007. The building was redeveloped for new purposes. However, the chain of stores known as Carson Pirie Scott continued, with approximately 30 stores, mostly in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Buildings--Illinois--Chicago--Conservation and restoration--20th century
Business enterprises--Illinois--Chicago--19th century
Business enterprises--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Department stores--Illinois--Chicago--19th century
Department stores--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Family-owned business enterprises--Illinois--Chicago
Historic buildings--Conservation and restoration--Illinois--Chicago
Martin, C. Virgil
Pirie, John T., 1827-1913
Scott, Robert L.
1 South State Street (Chicago, Ill.)
Carson Pirie Scott Building (Chicago, Ill.)
Carson Pirie Scott--Archives
Carson Pirie Scott--Employees
Financial records
Floor plans
Legal documents
Newspaper clippings
Chicago (Ill.)--Commerce--19th century
Chicago (Ill.)--Commerce--20th century
Loop (Chicago, Ill.)

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged into three series.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Events and milestones, 1925-1985 (box 1-8)
Series 2. Founders and executives, ca. 1869-1988 (box 9-15)
Series 3. Other materials, ca. 1900-1988 (box 16)

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Amanda Betts using Oxygen editor, 2015.
Language: Finding aid is written in English.
Other Finding Aids: Finding aid also submitted to Explore Chicago Collections portal.
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