By the early twentieth century, Chicago companies depended upon a widespread market of suppliers, producers, and consumers, many of whom resided beyond metropolitan, and even national, borders. Retail operations like Marshall Field & Co., Montgomery Ward & Co., and Sears, Roebuck & Co. based their operations in Chicago and relied upon extensive rail and shipping networks to stock local stores with imported specialty items, and to ship catalogs and purchased goods directly to customers. Similarly, manufacturing companies like International Harvester Co. took advantage of transportation facilities to oversee its international organization of factories and sales offices.
The front cover of this 1898 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog celebrated its financial strength, its worldwide reach, and the products and regions on which the firm primarily depended for its business.
In this 1912 Spanish-language catalog, Montgomery Ward & Co. promoted its international distribution network and directed its mail-order retail services toward customers living in urban centers in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
By the early twentieth century, Marshall Field & Co. was a thriving enterprise, accumulating about $25 million in yearly retail sales and nearly $50 million wholesale. During the 1920s, the company extended its foreign operations, continuing an international expansion that had been initiated by Marshall Field in the 1860s. Through promotional literature, Field & Co. highlighted its international network of buyers, branch offices, and manufacturing facilities.
During the 1940s, as World War II raged, American business and political leaders focused on improving diplomatic and economic relations closer to home in Central and South America. In February 1942, owners of the downtown department store Mandel Brothers hosted the Peruvian National Exposition, organized by the government of Peru to promote the sale of Peruvian goods in the United States. Chicago's business, political, and religious leaders, including Mayor Edward J. Kelly and Bishop Bernard J. Sheil of the Catholic Youth Organization, participated in the exposition.
This 1930 annual report of the International Harvester Co. provided a snapshot of the business at its peak, when it ranked as the nation's leading manufacturer of trucks and one of the world's dominant suppliers of agricultural equipment. As the report indicated, IH and its affiliates operated dozens of sales offices in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as numerous production facilities outside the U.S.