Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947)

"The Earl of Oxford Street" Founder of Selfridge's Department Store, London

Associated Houses

Lansdowne House

Berkeley Square, London

Harrose Hall

Lake Geneva

He was born at Ripon, Wisconsin, and brought up in Jackson, Michigan. At the end of the Civil War his father never returned home (he was later convicted as a con-man in Missouri), his two brothers died, and his mother struggled to make ends meet. Having worked part-time from the age of ten, he quit school at fourteen to work in a bank. He failed his exams to enter the U.S. Navy School at Annapolis and in 1876 an ex-employer agreed to provide him with a letter of introduction to Marshall Field, senior partner in one of Chicago's largest stores. He worked his way up from stock boy to junior partner during which time he was the first to promote Christmas sales with the phrase: "Only 'x' Shopping Days Until Christmas". When Field refused him a partnership, in 1904 he opened his own department store, Harry G. Selfridge & Co., in Chicago, but sold it just two months later for a substantial profit which allowed him to retire more than comfortably. During his retirement, he bought a yacht and sailed to Europe. In 1906, while in London, he could not help but notice that despite its abundant wealth, its department stores were incomparable in contrast to those in the States or Paris.

Having paid £400,000 for a parcel of land at the unfashionable end of Oxford Street - but directly opposite Bond Street Underground station - he opened for business in 1909 and changed the face of retail in England, developing the previously unheard of notion of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity. Selfridge's & Co. prospered until Harry lost his wife and then his mother before the Great Depression took its toll. In 1890, in Chicago, he married Rosalie Buckingham whose family had made their fortune storing grain for the Illinois Central Railway. The Selfridges initially lived on Rush Street with Rose’s mother before moving to 117 Lake Shore Drive (later 1430 N. Lake Shore Drive). In 1899, they built Harrose Hall as a summer home on Geneva Lake, Wisconsin. Selfridge became a British citizen in 1937 and lived between Lansdowne House in London and Highcliffe Castle on the Dorset coast. By 1940, he owed £250,000 in taxes and the Selfridges board forced him out in 1941. Six years later, he died almost penniless in Putney.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 14/07/2020 and last updated on 07/07/2022.