A Portrait of John Wanamaker

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly

and be glorified, just as it is with you. II Thess. 3:1

From this verse Paul moves into an exhortation on daily work, vocation and calling. Consider this testimony of successful American merchant John Wanamaker (1838-1922). In 1861, he opened his first business in Philadelphia—the Oak Hall department store. He revolutionized shopping by applying price tags to his goods. The price was fair and consistent no matter who the buyer. He also allowed goods to be returned. These two aspects were revolutionary in business earning him the title “the Merchant Prince.”

Wanamaker, in 1875, purchased an abandoned rail depot, converting it to a shopping mall with an astronomical 129 stores under the one roof of “The Depot.” Soon he expanded this concept into New York, London and Paris. In 1889, he founded First Penny Savings bank, with the primary business objective of encouraging people to save. That same year President Harrison appointed him postmaster general. He founded many charities to help the hungry, alcoholics and homeless. He founded and funded a free school for people to learn the mechanical trades. It was his money which paid for the children’s wing of the Philadelphia Presbyterian Hospital.

He was a devout Christian who refused to open his stores, or even advertise on Sundays. The store in Philadelphia served as his personal headquarters. In that store he had a small, unimpressive room which was soundproof and reserved for one single use: prayer. Every day, he spent a minimum of half-hour reading his Bible and praying. He would leave that room excited to share the gospel with everyone he met. During an interview, when quizzed on this habit he responded, “If you once have the joy and sweet pleasure of bringing one soul to Christ, you will be hungry to invite another.”

Obviously, an extraordinary entrepreneur, innovator, businessman, and member of the President’s cabinet, yet these all paled when compared to what he considered his true calling. As mentioned above, Wanamaker’s great delight was sharing the gospel in his daily world and routine, and also seeing kids gain exposure and growth in the things of Jesus. He loved his work in Bethany Presbyterian Church as Sunday school superintendent (which was the largest Sunday school in the world at that time). He was asked how he had the time for such a demanding Sunday school program when he had such business demands upon him. His response: “Prayer, evangelism and Sunday school are my priority, everything else is secondary. Early in life I read, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ The Sunday school, prayer and evangelism are my business; all the rest are things.”

Boy that is good to chew on—“all the rest are things.” May we be a people who fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus, grow in grace and knowledge of Him, and love Him with our heart, soul, mind & strength… run our race well, and then when we’re home in Heaven, hear “Well done!”

Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. II Thess. 3:5