It’s difficult to comprehend just how big the Merchandise Mart is. You can say it’s four million square feet. You can know it was once the largest commercial building in the world. You can mention that there are six and a half miles of corridors, that the initial plate glass order would stretch for seven miles, and that thirty thousand people enter through its doors every weekday, but none of that sinks in until you stand in front of it and look left, right, and up. Even then, the sheer scale can escape you.
James Simpson, president of Marshall Field & Company, was the force behind this massive building. Like John Shedd, Harry Selfridge, and Marshall Field himself, he was another top-level executive who started at the bottom as a young man and worked his way up. James was only seventeen when he began working at Marshall Field’s as a clerk. The Scottish immigrant, who’d been in the states since he was six, so impressed Marshall that he made James his confidential clerk (basically a private secretary) within a year. In 1906, James was promoted to second vice president and assistant to John Shedd, who’d been appointed president after Marshall’s death in January of that year. Eleven years later, James moved up to first vice president, and when John retired in 1923, James took the top spot.
Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.
Architects: Graham, Anderson, Probst and White
Address: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza
Sources for Merchandise Mart (theMART)
This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.
- “Chicago Mart Gets Loan.” New York Times, 6 Aug 1945.
- “Cleaning The Merchandise Mart’s Epic ‘Merchandise Around the World’ Mural.” The Conservation Center 14 Jul 2014.
- Drury, John, 1898-. A Century of Progress Authorized Guide to Chicago. Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers, Inc, 1933.
- Higgins, Kevin. “The Chicago Merchandise Mart: How the World’s Largest Commercial Building Fueled an American Political Dynasty.” Global History of Capitalism Project, Sep 2018.
- Marshall Field & Company. Marshall Field’s And Chicago. Chicago: Marshall Field & Co., 1940.
- White, James Terry, 1845-1920, and George Derby. The National Cyclopædia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States As Illustrated In the Lives of the Founders, Builders, And Defenders of the Republic, And of the Men And Women Who Are Doing the Work And Moulding the Thought of the Present Time. New York: J. T. White & company, 1893.