Born – 11th January 1858
Died – 8th May 1947
Father – Robert Oliver Selfridge
Mother – Lois Selfridge
Spouse – m. 1890 – Rosalie Buckingham
Children – Chandler (1891), Rosalie (1893 – 1977), Violette (1897 – 1996), Harry (Gordon) (1900 – 1976), Beatrice (1901 – 1990)
Known to History – Founder of Selfridges department store
1858 (11th January)
Harry Gordon Selfridge was born to Robert Oliver Selfridge and his wife Lois in Ripon, Wisconsin, USA.
The family moved to Jackson, Michigan where Robert Selfridge had acquired a general store.
1861 (12th April)
The American Civil War began. Robert Selfridge went to fight for the Union army.
1865 (9th May)
The American Civil war ended. Robert Selfridge had survived the war but chose not to return to his family leaving his wife Lois to bring up their three sons, Harry, Robert and Charles alone. Lois told the children that their father had been killed in the war.
Harry Selfridge’s two brothers, Robert and Charles died shortly after the end of the Civil War.
Harry’s mother Lois found work as a schoolteacher in Jackson, Michigan. She supplemented her $30 monthly income by hand-painting greetings cards.
Harry Selfridge got a job as a paper boy. He put his income towards living expenses for himself and his mother.
Harry found an after school and holiday job at Leonard Field’s dry-goods’ store.
Harry used the money he earned at the dry-goods’ store to fund a second venture. He and a friend, Peter Loomis, produced a boy’s magazine entitled ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ and earned money by selling advertising space.
Harry Selfridge left school. He found work ad a junior book-keeper in the bank run by Peter Loomis’ father.
Harry wanted to become a sailor and applied to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. However, he was turned down on the grounds that at 5 feet 8 inches, he was too short to serve in the military. He was also very short-sighted which would also have failed the entrance requirements.
Selfridge began working at Gilbert, Ransom & Knapp furniture factory in Jackson Michigan, as a book-keeper. However, the company was in trouble and went bankrupt.
Harry Selfridge was out of work until he found work at Grand Rapids working in insurance for $1 per day. Even though the job involved moving 100 km north west, he took the job. He spent many evenings playing cards and especially enjoyed playing poker.
1876 (late January)
Selfridge had managed to save $500 from his insurance work and poker winnings in Grand Rapids and decided to returned to his hometown of Jackson, Michigan.
1876 (early Spring)
Harry Selfridge found work in a local grocery store but he found the work unsatisfying and was ambitious for something more challenging.
Harry Selfridge persuaded his former employer, Leonard Field, to write him a letter of introduction to his cousin. Marshall Field was owner of Field, Leiter and Company, the largest department store in Chicago.
Harry Selfridge was given a job at Field, Leiter and Company as a stock boy. He determined to work his way to the top of the company.
Marshall Field bought out Leiter and renamed his company Marshall Field & Co.
Harry Selfridge took a trip to New York to look at department stores in the city. He was very impressed by the uniformed door men and the layout of the stores.
Selfridge became personal assistant to the retail general manager, J M Fleming. Although Marshall Field had wanted Harry Selfridge to implement new ideas, Fleming was a traditionalist and resisted change.
Despite Fleming’s dislike of change, Harry Selfridge set about making Marshall Field and Co the most modern and stylish shop in Chicago. He began by increasing the amount of lighting in the store and also by lighting the front window displays. He then set about making shopping an experience: He made display cases lower and put things on display that could be touched and handled by the shopper. He increased the advertising budget for the store and made sure that Marshall Field and Co was a household name. He used slogans in advertising such as ‘the customer is always right’ to increase sales. Selfridge also introduced twice yearly sales where prices were cut. Finally, he persuaded Marshall Field to turn the lower floor into a bargain basement.
Harry Selfridge and John Shedd, Manager of the Wholesale Department, went on a two month tour of France, Germany and the UK looking at department stores. The trip gave Harry a lot of ideas but also awakened a desire to open a department store in London.
1890 (11th November)
Harry Selfridge married Rosalie Buckingham in Chicago. 30 year-old Rosalie, known as Rose was a successful property developer who had inherited a great deal of money from her family.
1891 (7th August)
A son, Chandler, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge. The baby died soon after birth.
The latest figures for Marshall Field showed that over the previous six years Harry Selfridge had increased the store’s turnover by more than $2 million. Armed with this success Harry Selfridge asked to be made a partner in the store. Marshall Field agreed and Selfridge became a junior partner. This new position gave him an income of $20,000 per year.
1893 (10th September)
A daughter, Rosalie, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States.
1897 (5th June)
A daughter, Violette, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge.
1900 (2nd April)
A son, Harry Gordon Selfridge was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was known as Gordon.
1901 (30th July)
A daughter, Beatrice, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Lake Geneva, Walworth, Wisconsin, USA.
Harry Selfridge opened his own department store Harry G. Selfridge and Co. in Chicago. After owning the store for two months he sold it at a profit to Carson, Pirie and Co and announced his retirement.
1906 (16th January)
Marshall Field, owner of Marshall Field and Co died.
Harry and his wife Rosalie were on holiday in London where Harry noticed that department stores were not using the latest selling techniques being used in America. Selfridge became determined to own his own London store and invested £400,000 in the project.
1909 (15th March)
Selfridge and Co opened for business at the unfashionable end of Oxford Street, opposite Bond Street underground station. The new department store boasted more than 100 departments.
1909 (25th July)
Louis Blériot’s aeroplane, in which he had been the first man to fly the Channel, was put on show in Selfridge’s for four days.
Having seen cosmetics openly on display in Paris shops, Harry Selfridge opened a Beauty Department on the ground floor of Selfridge’s in London.
Harry Selfridge began an affair with French music hall singer, Gaby Deslys.
Harry Selfridge added a Bargain Basement to his store which was very successful. He also added a pet department and the biggest bookshop in the World.
Harry Selfridge’s affair with Gaby Deslys was over.
1914 to 1918 (during)
The four years of World War One left a workforce shortage as men were conscripted into the forces. Harry Selfridge employed women to fill the posts vacated by serving men.
1918 (12th May)
Harry Selfridge’s wife Rosalie died from Influenza during the 1918 ‘flu epidemic. She was buried at St. Mark’s Churchyard, Highcliffe, Dorset.
1918 (8th August)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Rosalie married Sergei Vincent de Bolotoff.
1919 (22nd May)
Harry’s granddaughter, Tatiana Rosemary Sequenva De-Bolotoff, was born to Harry Selfridge’s daughter Rosalie and her husband Sergei Vincent de Bolotoff.
Harry Selfridge saw a performance by Jenny and Rosie Dolly. Known as the Dolly sisters, Selfridge was captivated by their beauty.
1921 (4th May)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Violette married Jacques Jean de Sibour.
Harry’s grandson, Jean Jacques Henri Blaise de Sibour was born to Harry Selfridge’s daughter Violette and her husband Jaques Jean de Sibour.
Harry Selfridge’s mother died.
Harry Selfridge was besotted with Jenny Dolly and lavished expensive gifts on her. He also accompanied her to gambling casinos and gave her money to gamble with. He also gave her sister, Rosie expensive gifts.
1925 (1st – 27th April)
John Logi Baird demonstrated his new invention, the television, at Selfridges.
Harry Selfridge set up the Selfridge Provincial Stores Company which saw 16 new Selfridge’s open in the provinces.
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Beatrice married Louis Blaise de Sibour brother of her sister Violette’s husband.
Selfridge’s stores were opened in Leeds and Sheffield.
Selfridges was the largest retail group in Europe.
The Great Depression affected Britain and people had less money to spend. Selfridges used the slogan ‘Buy British’ to encourage people to spend their money in British shops.
The Dolly sisters were involved in a car accident and Jenny was badly injured. Harry Selfridge paid her medical bills.
Harry Selfridge was ousted from the board of Directors of Selfridges.
Harry Selfridge was badly in debt to the bank and owed £250,000 in taxes.
1940 (10th June)
Harry Selfridge’s son, Gordon, married Charlotte Elsie Dennis at Libertyville, Illinois. He gave up his job at the Selfridge’s London store and lived with his wife in America.
Harry Selfridge’s daughter, Rosalie, married for the second time to Frank L. Lewis.
1947 (8th May)
Harry Selfridge died of bronchial pneumonia in London. He was buried with his wife and mother at St. Mark’s Churchyard, Highcliffe, Dorset.
First published 2015; updated and re-published Oct 07 2020 @ 1:57 pm – Updated –
Harvard Reference for this page:
Heather Y Wheeler. (2015 – 2021). Harry Gordon (Mr) Selfridge 1858 – 1947. https://www.thetimelinegeek.com/harry-gordon-mr-selfridge-1858-1947/