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Sears, Roebuck and Company was founded in Chicago, Illinois as a catalog merchandizer in 1873. Their "stores" were more akin to pickup centers than actually places to shop, though it was possible in larger outlets to do so.

The primary vending method was to send catalogs to huge lists of people. These customers would order items, which would then be sent by mail or parcel post, or other shippers for larger items, directly to the home or business of the consumer. Or the items could be picked up at the Sears Store in a nearby town.

The Sears, Roebuck catalog was sometimes referred to as "the Consumers' Bible." The catalog also entered the language, particular of rural dwellers, as a euphamism for toilet paper. In the days of outhouses and no readily available toilet paper, the pages of the catalog were used as toilet paper. "I'm going to read the Sears catalog" was a polite way of saying "I'm going to the outhouse." Another way the company entered the language the phrase/question: "what, did you get your license at Sears?" This was a disparaging remark directed at poor drivers. It is still heard among older Americans.

The company was the largest retailer in the United States until the early 1980s. It is still ranked among the top 10.

Roebuck was dropped from the name starting in a phase out in the 1970s. And at this time plans were launched for the Sears Tower, completed in 1974. This building, located in Chicago, is the tallest building in the United States. However, in the 1990s, Sears moved its headquarters to the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates.

Sears owns 55% of Sears Canada, a large department store chain in Canada, similar to the U.S. stores.