Civilization is generally defined as a gathering place for social and cultural activities. Its emergence is generally associated with the final stages of the Neolithic Revolution, a slow process that cumulated independently over many locations between 10,000 and 3,000 BC. This was the period when humans moved out of the caves and there was a transition in many cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settling together of increasingly large populations.
Historians and anthropologists have varying theories and opinions based on the archaeological findings found so far which the very first civilization was. While there is virtually indisputable scientific evidence that Homo Sapiens, the human species originated in the Rift Valley of Eastern Ethiopia 2,000 generations ago, it is generally believed humans did not begin to migrate until 55,000 to 60,000 years ago. It is estimated that 108,000,000,000 have lived on this planet since the beginning of time. The fact that 6.5% currently still do indicates a rapid population growth. As a result the number of fossils and other evidence of the earliest humans, their migration and settlements are but a fraction of those and these that ever lived and existed.
The earliest civilizations are traced to the Tigris-Euphrates civilization along the valleys of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers in a place once called “Mesopotamia,” present-day Iran and Iraq, Egypt and Indian and Chinese river valleys.
Once plants and some animals were domesticated and these civilizations developed and agriculture and the organized breeding of edible animals replaced the hunting and gathering, trade between civilizations followed. Trade is the exchange of possession and ownership of goods. Network that allows trade is a called a “market” Once our ancestors worked out the processes for sale and purchase of goods, namely money in one form or another and humans invented or figured out modes of transportation, the use and consumption of consumer goods expanded from one civilization to another.
In what is now the United States, the first merchants were those that owned and operated trading outposts. Local Indian Tribes, eager to acquire metal goods; Knives, axes, pots, pans, and the such, initiated trade with the fishermen. Their chief product to trade was furs, which the fishermen eagerly brought back to France and England. The fishermen sold the furs quickly, and when the wide-brimmed felt hat came into fashion, the demand for beaver pelts increased dramatically.
The next step in the retail process were peddlers who moved about form one homestead and civilization to another. An example of this was in northeaster New Jersey which was populated by English and Dutch immigrants. The Dutch were much more independent to the degree that in 1666 when King Charles III of England led his country to seize the land known as New Netherlands, roughly the eastern seaboard between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers the Dutch inhabitants virtually gave up without a fight. They cared little for which country was governing their territory where there land was situated in, so long as they were not impacted directly. While the English generally established churches, usually Presbyterian churches from which each community developed from, the Dutch communities were single homesteads, usually populated by single families. They were extremely self-sufficient. They grew crops and raised livestock. From the livestock, such as sheep they sheered the animals and used their hair and fur to make cloth. Peddlers called “loomers” rode their horse-driven wagons from farm to farm. On it were wooden looms that were used to weave the animal fibers into such cloth that was used for clothing, drapes, blankets, etc.
There were also peddlers who roamed the countryside selling goods that the farmers were unable to manufacture easily on their homesteads, such as drinking and eating wares, various trinkets and fruits and vegetables. Some would offer knife and axe sharpening. Others offered magic medicinal products. As urban areas grew central markets developed, the larger ones obviously in the larger cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Boston’s Faneuil Hall Market Place which opened in 1742 and was later expanded when Quincy Market was build adjacent to it was one of the most noteworthy and its building and name survives today, albeit mostly as a fast food and souvenir tourist trap.
By the end of the 17th century due creative entrepreneurs who had learned and developed specialties like baking and butchering moved out of the public markets and main streets and public squares began to add depth to a community. Up until well into the 20th century in America here was the main concentration of retail businesses. For those in rural America in just before the outbreak of the Civil war the mail order catalog was their source of purchasing of goods.
Mail order catalogs have their roots back to the middle ages in Venice, Italy when a publisher in 1498 published the first one, precursors of the paperback books of today. Benjamin Franklin published a large catalog of goods in 1744, but the concept caught fire right after the Civil War, when a traveling salesman named Montgomery Ward published a catalog sheet that was to grow from one to 240 pages by 1884 with thousands of items. If Ward made it media popular, Richard Sears, starting in 1886, made it into an art form…
In 1498, the publisher Aldus Manutius of Venice printed a catalogue of the books he was printing. In 1667, the English gardener, William Lucas, published a seed catalogue, which he mailed to his customers to inform them of his prices. Catalogues spread to colonial America, where Benjamin Franklin is believed to have been the first cataloguer in British America. In 1744 he produced a catalogue of sold scientific and academic books.
The British entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones set up the first modern mail order in 1861. Starting off as an apprentice to a local draper in Newtown, Wales, he took over the business in 1856 and renamed it the Royal Welsh Warehouse, selling local Welsh flannel.
The establishment of a national postal service from the 1840s, and the extension of the railway network to Newtown, helped to eventually turn his small rural concern into a company with global renown. In 1861, Pryce-Jones hit upon a unique method of selling his wares. He distributed catalogues of his wares across the country, allowing people to choose the items they wished and order them via post; he would then dispatch the goods to the customer via the railways. It was an ideal way of meeting the needs of customers in isolated rural locations who were either too busy or unable to get into Newtown to shop directly. This was the world’s first mail order business, an idea which would change the nature of retail in the coming century.
The further expansion of the railways in the years that followed allowed Pryce Jones to greatly expand his customer base and his business grew rapidly. He supplied his products to an impressive variety of famous clientele, including Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria, the Princess of Wales and royal households across Europe. He also began exporting drapery to the US and British colonies.
One of his most popular products was the Euklisia Rug, the forerunner of the modern sleeping bag, which Pryce-Jones exported around the world, at one point landing a contract with the Russian Army for 60,000 rugs. By 1880, he had more than 100,000 customers and his success was rewarded in 1887 with a knighthood.