Car Show Classic – 1952-54 Sears Allstate: The American Dream, As Sold Through A Sears Store

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(This was an article I posted over at the website Curbside Classic a while back. Researching info for this article led me into my first foray into the world of kit home searching)

In the late 1940’s, Henry J. Kaiser had an idea. This idea was to create a car for the “less affluent”; those that usually could only afford a used car. He thought that this crowd would rather own a new car with spartan accoutrements, than own a used car with better equipment. At this time, the retailing giant of Sears-Roebuck was basking in the glow of the postwar retail boom. They had correctly foreseen a great opportunity for expansion in the economic climate of Postwar America. They both expanded, and restarted divisions they had previously killed, such as the homes division. One of the ways Sears would expand was into the car market.

Photo from searsmotorbuggy.com

Photo from searsmotorbuggy.com

This was not Sears’ first foray into the automotive market. Their first effort was the short-lived and little-known Sears Motor Buggy. It was sold from 1908-12, and was produced by Lincoln Motor Car Works of Chicago, IL (no relation to the oh-so-broughamy turned Matthew McConaughey laughingstock Lincoln we know and love today). It was a reliable, but dated mode of transportation, as the motor buggy had fallen out of favor by that time. Its market was supplanted by more modern motorized vehicles, such as the Ford Model T.

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Henry J Kaiser had unveiled the Henry J in 1950. At the time, he had been trying to get a deal with Sears & Roebuck for three years. Kaiser thought that he could further mass-market this car by having t be one of the models that would be sold via the Sears catalog.

Sears Roebuck & Co. Department Store. Designed by Nimmons, Carr and Wright of Chicago, IL. 15001 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI Demolished circa 2000

Sears Roebuck & Co. Department Store of Highland Park, MI
Designed by Nimmons, Carr and Wright of Chicago, IL.
15001 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI
Demolished circa 2000

At the time, Sears was undoubetdly one of the most, if not the most popular retailer in the country. In many areas, retailers like Sears would effectively have an “anchor store” along the shopping strip on Main Street. Henry Kaiser and his son Edgar both knew this well, and thought to use it to leverage sales. Independent companies like Kaiser-Frazer could not hope to have a dealer network as large as the Big Four at the time, but knew both that they could get a much greater reach via Sears.

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It was a relatively rocky road for the little Allstate. It was-first and foremost-quite ungainly, and most people were not ready to buy a car from a department store, even if they were willing to buy a house from that very same store.  Accordingly, sales were quite slow. Lastly, no matter what, one thing nagged at them, and likely helped to dissuade them from further branching out further into the Automotive market. This issue also apparently nagged at Sears when they sold Graham-Bradley tractors in the 1930’s.

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Perhaps one of the nastier issues was the trade-in. Sears, naive to the way car dealers worked, did not know how to easily deal with trade-ins. After all, they knew quite well about how to sell and deal with anything that was not often traded in, from houses, to clothes, to toys, to farm implements, to car parts, to tools. However, they did not know how to deal with items that were traded in for a newer and shinier, such as tractors and cars. Some might be apt to make a comparison to the lifetime warranty found on their Craftsman hand tools, but tools are often used (and often abused) until they are simply rendered useless. Cars, however, are traded in quite often. Sears simply did not know what to do.

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Of course, any efforts at attempting long-term sales were absolutely pointless, as the Henry J was killed off after the 1954 MY. Accordingly, the Allstate car died with it. Still, for a brief moment in time, you could literally buy the postwar suburban American dream from the Sears store.

(1) 1654 Elmdale, Glenview, IL (2) 609 E Indiana, Wheaton, IL

(1) 1654 Elmdale, Glenview, IL
(2) 609 E Indiana, Wheaton, IL

You could buy your Homart prefabricated home (See them *HERE* and *HERE*)…

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Your Allsafe Car, to commute from your new suburban home, to the factories or office tower…

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Your Kenmore and Hotpoint appliances, for the domestic doyenne……

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Your Sears Furniture…

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Your Sears Silvertone radios, TVs, and electrical musical instruments…

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Your Sears clothes…

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Your Sears Tower typewriter for nice Christmas cards, essays, and letters…

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Your Sears toys for the kids…

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And finally, your Craftsman tools to fix everything up in the near future.

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It was a wonderful time, wherein the American dream seemed within the grasp of all who came upon a Sears store. Sears itself was an integral part of everyone’s life, being as familiar to Mid-Century America as Amazon.com is to millenials such as myself. Yes, the culture that prevailed in Postwar America at the time was rather corrosive in some views, but one had the rare opportunity to buy everything they may ever need, from one place. Even today, this cannot be matched, as Amazon has not sold cars, tractors, or houses through its pages (yet). Granted they are working on private space travel via SpaceX, but this will only be accessible to the uppercrust and moneyed in the foreseeable future. Also, one can purchase non-perishable foodstuffs on Amazon, but they do not sell the essentials to the American Dream through their webpages. Amazon may sell the future to the rich and gadgets to everyone else, but Sears sold everything to the working and middle class. When you bought stuff from Sears, you were not just buying that item, but a way of life that much of Middle America practiced. Sears was not just a company; it was practically a way of life.

(1) Genesee Valley Center, Flint, MI, in 1970 and 2009 (2) A Sears Allstate, as it probably looked originally, and as it looks now. (3) A Sears Crescent Kit Home at 2820 Washington St, Kenosha, WI in 1975 and 2012

(1) Genesee Valley Center, Flint Township, MI, in 1970 and 2009
(2) A Sears Allstate, as it probably looked originally, and as it looks now.
(3) A Sears Crescent Kit Home at 2820 Washington St, Kenosha, WI in 1975 and 2012

Alas in this world, change is but a constant, making some things better and some worse. Above are some examples of change, occasionally paired with entropy and disfigurement.  Sometimes, things may not change all that much, as in Genesee Valley Center. Sometimes, they change somewhat drastically, but still show their roots, such as our little Allstate. Sometimes, things even change to the point wherein they have little or no resemblance to how it once looked, as in the case of our little  Sears Crescent in Kenosha, WI. It has long been said among investors that Sears is dying, and the entropy that it’s products have shown-from declining suburban mega-malls, to “remuddled” kit homes and rat rodded cars-is evidence of this. We must accept saying goodbye to a declining giant of retail, and accept that it may be a warning sign of the future to come. Change is a constant that refuses to simply quit. One can delay change, but it will still get its way.

“The times they are a changin”

-Bob Dylan, 1964

Recommended Reading:

Cohort Sighting: “Modernized” Kaiser Henry J Found In Havana

Cohort Outtake: 1954 Henry J – The Badges On The Front Fender Tell The Story

Car Show Classic: 1953 Kaiser Henry J Corsair De Luxe – Big Name, Little Car, No Sale

Automotive History: The First Wave Compacts – The Pioneers Take The Arrows

Curbside Classic: 1953 Willys Aero-Lark – The Failed Sneak Preview Of The Falcon, Lark, And Other Compacts

Sears Motor Buggy

SIA Flashback – 1953 Allstate: Henry J in Drag?

When Sears Sold Cars: The Strange Tale Of The Kaiser Henry J

A Picture Review of the Henry J and Allstate

1952-53 Allstate (How Stuff Works)

Curbside Classic Author Profile: Nigel Tate (This is the link to my author profile at CC. As with this, I should really do more over there)

Below are some blogs that touch upon that *other* big-ticket item Sears sold from their catalog: so-called mail-order or kit homes:

Sears Homes of Chicagoland

Sears Houses in Ohio

Sears Houses in Cincinnati

Kit House Hunters

DC House Cat

Sears House Seeker

Daily Bungalow

R.L. Hunter Press

Gordon Van Tine

Sears Modern Home Junkie

America’s Favorite Homes by Rob Schweitzer

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About Nigel T.

I created this site.
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