According to the census records, in 1860 Aaron Montgomery Ward was living with his family in Niles, Michigan with a listed occupation of shoemaker, his father’s trade. Just 12 years later he was founding his company. That was a spectacular journey.
Ward was a young man with ambition who looked to do better in life than be a shoemaker. His father’s trade had hardly bettered his family’s straitened circumstances. Soon after 1860 Ward moved to St. Joseph, Michigan and worked first in a shoe store and then in a general country store, working his way up to general manager, continually earning better money.
Later in life Ward described himself as “self-educated, self-made” and his succeeding jobs certainly bear witness to that. After the Civil War he went to Chicago and first sold corn salve (under what circumstances remains to be investigated). 1865, however, saw him employed as a traveling salesman for the Case & Soben Lamp Co., probably to stores in the Midwest. Next he spent two years in Chicago with the dry goods firm of Field, Palmer & Leiter (forerunner of Marshall Field & Company). He then switched employers and worked for Willis, Greg, Brown & Co. until they folded. He had a cousin Thomas Budd in St. Louis and worked as a traveling salesman for him for the Walter M. Smith Co., this time traveling to country stores in the South. He returned to Chicago and was employed by C.W. & E. Pardridge & Co., for whom he worked while he was organizing his own venture.
Why he changed jobs so often—more money, more challenge and experience or all three—I would not venture to speculate now. But certainly he was restless and striving and obviously learned a lot about salesmanship. Indeed he was to become one of the greatest salespeople of all times.