Harry Gordon (Mr) Selfridge 1858 – 1947

Harry Selfridge


This timeline details the life of the American entrepreneur who founded the department store Selfridges



1858 (January 11th)
Born in Ripon, Wisconsin, USA to Robert Oliver Selfridge and his wife Lois.
1858 (Spring)
The family moved to Jackson, Michigan where Robert Selfridge had acquired a general store
1861 (April 12th)
The American Civil War began. Robert Selfridge went to fight for the Union army
1865 (May 9th)
The American Civil war ended. Robert Selfridge had survived the war but chose not to return to his family leaving his wife Lois to bring up their three sons, Harry, Robert and Charles alone. Lois told the children that their father had been killed in the war.
1866 (exact year unknown – date estimated)
Harry Selfridge’s two brothers Robert and Charles died shortly after the end of the Civil War.
1866 (exact year unknown – date estimated)
Harry’s mother Lois found work as a schoolteacher in Jackson, Michigan. She supplemented her $30 monthly income by hand painting greetings cards.
1868 (during)
Harry Selfridge contributed to the household income by delivering newspapers
1870 (during)
Harry Selfridge began working after school and during the holidays at Leonard Field’s dry-good’s store.
1871 (during)
Harry Selfridge and a friend Peter Loomis, produced a boy’s magazine titled ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ and earned money from it by selling advertising space.
1872 (Summer)
Harry Selfridge left school. He found work in the bank run by Peter Loomis’ father as a junior book-keeper.
1873 (During)
Harry Selfridge’s application to the Annapolis Naval Academy was turned down on the grounds that he was too short at 5 feet 8 inches to serve in the military. He was also very short-sighted which would also have failed the entrance requirements.
1874 (Exact date unknown)
Harry Selfridge began working at Gilbert, Ransom & Knapp furniture factory in Jackson Michigan, as a book-keeper. However, the company was soon in trouble and failed.
1875 (Exact date unknown)
Out of work, Harry Selfridge found work at Grand Rapids working in insurance for $1 per day. He took the job and moved to Grand Rapids about 100km north west of Jackson. He spent many evenings playing cards and especially enjoyed playing poker.
1876 (Late January)
Harry Selfridge had managed to save $500 from his earnings and poker winnings in Grand Rapids and so returned to Jackson
1876 (after January)
Harry Selfridge found work in a local grocery store but he found the work unsatisfying and was ambitious for something more challenging
1878 (During)
Harry Selfridge persuaded his former employer, Leonard Field, to write him a letter of introduction to Field’s cousin Marshall Field of Field, Leiter & Company, owners of the largest department store in Chicago
1879 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge began working at Field Leiter and Company as a stock boy
1881 (January)
Marshall Field bought out Leiter and renamed his company Marshall Field & Co
1884 (exact date unknown)
Harry Selfridge had taken at trip to New York to look at department stores. He had been impressed by the uniformed door men and the layout of the stores.
1885 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge became the retail general manager, J M Fleming’s, personal assistant. Although Marshall Field had wanted Harry Selfridge to implement new ideas, Fleming was a traditionalist and resisted change.
1885 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge set about making Marshall Field & Co the most modern and stylish shop in Chicago. He began by increasing the amount of lighting in the store and also by lighting the front window displays. He then set about making shopping an experience: He made display cases lower and put things on display that could be touched and handled by the shopper. He increased the advertising budget for the store and made sure that Marshall Field & Co was a household name. He also used slogans in advertising such as ‘the customer is always right’. He introduced twice yearly sales Finally, he persuaded Marshall Field to turn the lower floor into a bargain basement.
1888 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge and John Shedd, Manager of the Wholesale Department, went on a two month tour of France, Germany and the UK looking at department stores. The trip gave Harry a lot of ideas but also awakened a desire to open a department store in London.
1890 (November 11th)
Harry Selfridge married Rosalie Buckingham in Chicago. Rosalie, known as Rose aged 30 years was a successful property developer who had inherited a deal of money from her family.
1891 (date unknown)
A son, Chandler, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge. The baby died soon after birth.
1892 (date unknown)
The latest figures for Marshall Field showed that during the previous six years Harry Selfridge had increased the store’s turnover by more than $2 million. Armed with this success Harry Selfridge asked to be made a partner in the store. Marshall Field agreed and Selfridge became a junior partner. This new position gave him an income of $20,000 per year
1893 (September 10th)
A daughter, Rosalie, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States
1897 (date unknown)
A daughter, Violette, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge
1900 (April 2nd)
A son, Harry Gordon Selfridge (known as Gordon) was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Chicago, Illinois, USA
1901 (July 30th)
A daughter, Beatrice, was born to Harry and Rose Selfridge at Lake Geneva, Walworth, Wisconsin, USA
1904 (during)
Harry Selfridge opened his own department store Harry G. Selfridge and Co. in Chicago. After owning the store for two months he sold it at a profit to Carson, Pirie and Co
1906 (date unknown)
Marshall Field, owner of Marshall Field and Co died.
1906 (date unknown)
Harry and his wife Rosalie were on holiday in London where Harry noticed that department stores were not using the latest selling techniques being used in America. Selfridge became determined to own his own London store and invested £400,000 in the project.
1909 (March 15th)
Selfridge & Co opened for business at the unfashionable end of Oxford Street. The new department store boasted more than 100 departments.
1909 (July 25th)
Louis Blériot’s aeroplane, in which he had become the first man to fly the Channel, was put on show in Selfridge’s for four days.

1910 (during)
Having seen cosmetics openly on display in Paris shops, Harry Selfridge opened a Beauty Department on the ground floor of Selfridge’s in London
1910 (approximate date)
Harry Selfridge began an affair with French music hall singer, Gaby Deslys
1911 (during)
Harry Selfridge added a Bargain Basement to his store which was very successful. He also added a pet department and the biggest bookshop in the World.
1917 (approximate date)
Harry Selfridge’s affair with Gaby Deslys was over
1914 to 1918 (during)
The four years of World War One left a workforce shortage as men were conscripted into the forces. Harry Selfridge employed women to fill the posts vacated by serving men.
1918 (May 12th)
Harry Selfridge’s wife Rosalie died from Influenza during the 1918 ‘flu epidemic. She was buried at St. Mark’s Churchyard, Highcliffe, Dorset
1918 (August 8th)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Rosalie married Sergei Vincent de Bolotoff
1919 (May 22nd)
A daughter, Tatiana Rosemary Sequenva De-Bolotoff , was born to Harry Selfridge’s daughter Rosalie and her husband Sergei Vincent de Bolotoff
1921 (during)
Harry Selfridge saw a performance by Jenny and Rosie Dolly. Known as the Dolly sisters, Selfridge was captivated by their beauty
1921 (May 4th)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Violette married Jacques Jean de Sibour
1922 (date unknown)
A son Jean Jacques Henri Blaise de Sibour was born to Harry Selfridge’s daughter Violette and her husband Jaques Jean de Sibour
1924 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge’s mother died
1925 (by this date)
Harry Selfridge was besotted with Jenny Dolly and lavished expensive gifts on her. He also accompanied her to gambling casinos and gave her money to gamble with. He also gave her sister, Rosie expensive gifts.
1925 (April 1st to 27th)
John Logi Baird demonstrated his new invention, the television, at Selfridges
1926 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge set up the Selfridge Provincial Stores Company which saw 16 new Selfridge’s open in the provinces
1926 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter Beatrice married Louis Blaise de Sibour brother of her sister Violette’s husband
1927 (date unknown)
Selfridge’s stores were opened in Leeds and Sheffield
1929 (date unknown)
Selfridges was the largest retail group in Europe
1931 (approximate date)
With Britain suffering in the Global downturn caused by the Wall Street Crash, Selfridge’s took up the slogan ‘Buy British’ to encourage people to spend their money in British shops.
1933 (date unknown)
The Dolly sisters were involved in a car accident and Jenny was badly injured. Harry Selfridge paid her medical bills.
1939 (date unknown)
Harry Selfridge was ousted from the board of Directors of Selfridges
1940 (during)

Harry Selfridge was badly in debt to the bank and owed £250,000 in taxes

1940 (June 10th)
Harry Selfridge’s son, Harry Gordon married Charlotte Elsie Dennis at Libertyville, Illinois. He gave up his job at the Selfridges London store and lived with his wife in America
1940 (After)
Harry Selfridge’s daughter, Rosalie, married for the second time to Frank L. Lewis
1947 (May 8th)
Died in London. He was buried with his wife at St. Mark’s Churchyard, Highcliffe, Dorset


Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2015). A Timeline of the LIfe of Harry Gordon (Mr) Selfridge. Available: http://www.totallytimelines.com/harry-gordon-mr-selfridge-1858-1947/ Last Accessed February 21st, 2018


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