Robert Elkington Wood (June 13, 1879 – November 6, 1969) was an American military officer and business executive. After retiring from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general, Wood had a successful career as a corporate executive, most notably with Sears, Roebuck and Company. A Republican, Wood was a leader in the Old Right American Conservatism movement from the 1920s through the 1960s[1] as well as a key financial backer of the America First Committee prior to the United States' entry into World War II.


Robert E. Wood
Birth nameRobert Elkington Wood
Born(1879-06-13)June 13, 1879
Kansas City, Missouri, US
DiedNovember 6, 1969(1969-11-06) (aged 90)
Lake Forest, Illinois, US
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1900–1915
Rank Brigadier general
Battles/warsPhilippine–American War

World War I

AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Legion of Honour-Chevalier (France)
Order of St Michael and St George (Great Britain)
Spouse(s)Mary Hardwick
Relations2 daughters
Other workBusiness executive

Early life edit

At West Point in 1900

Wood was born to parents Robert Whitney and Lillie (Collins) Wood in Kansas City, Missouri.[2] Following graduation from Kansas City Central High School in 1895 he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1900 as a second lieutenant of cavalry.[3]

Military career edit

As an officer in the United States Army, he was stationed in the Philippines participating in field service during the Philippine insurrection. From 1902 to 1903 he was assigned to Fort Assinniboine (Hill County, Montana) and then for three years as an instructor at West Point. In 1905 he became the Assistant Chief Quartermaster and later the Chief Quartermaster and Director of the Panama Railroad Company. He served in the Panama Canal Zone for ten years, during the construction of the canal.[citation needed]

Wood retired in July 1915, by special act of Congress, as a major. Following this retirement he worked as assistant to the vice president of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours Company and headed operations in the United States, Venezuela, and Trinidad for the General Asphalt Company.[4] He briefly served as Purchasing Agent of the Emergency Fleet Corporation in early 1917.

Major General George W. Goethals and members of his staff, December 7, 1918. Front row, left to right: Gerard Swope, Major General George W. Goethals, Brigadier General Herbert Lord, Brigadier General William H. Rose. Back row, left to right: Edwin W. Fullam, Brigadier General Frank T. Hines, Brigadier General Robert E. Wood, Colonel F. B. Wells.

In 1917, on the eve of America's entry into the First World War, Wood returned to the Army as an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel. He served in Europe with the 42nd (Rainbow) Division and was promoted to colonel. Later in the war Wood would serve as transportation director for the entire American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France.[3] Towards the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general and made acting Quartermaster General of the Army.[citation needed] In June 1916, prior to America's entry into the war, Wood's brother, Captain Stanley Wood, was killed in action while serving as a volunteer in the Canadian Army.[3]

Post military career edit

After the leaving the army again in 1919, Wood became an executive at Montgomery Ward, eventually becoming a vice-president of the company.[citation needed] In 1924, he left Montgomery Ward to take a position of vice-president of Sears Roebuck.[citation needed] He became one of the most important leaders in that company's history, serving as president from 1928 until 1939 and as chairman from 1939 until 1954.[5] Under his leadership, Sears shifted the focus of its operations from mail-order sales to retail sales at large urban department stores. Wood also created Allstate Insurance as a subsidiary of Sears.[6]

In 1950, he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.[7]

Wood, once again, served as an honorary chairman for Sears from 1968 until shortly before his death in 1969.[8]

Political life edit

Wood was also politically active and was noted as a conservative Republican. In 1940, he helped found the America First Committee to oppose U.S. involvement in the Second World War; he served as the committee's first president on an interim basis.[9] In 1954, Wood funded the creation of the Manion Forum, a conservative radio program hosted by Clarence Manion.[10]

Personal life edit

Wood's grave at Lake Forest Cemetery

Robert Wood married Mary Butler Hardwick of Augusta, Georgia on April 30, 1908.[2] They were the parents of five children: four daughters and a son.

Wood died at his home in Lake Forest on November 6, 1969, and was buried at Lake Forest Cemetery.[11]

A great grandson, Keene Addington, is a Chicago restaurateur who currently runs the Tortoise Supper Club.[12]

Decorations and honors edit

Bronze busts honoring Wood and seven other industry magnates stand between the Chicago River and the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, Illinois. Formerly, General Wood had a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago named after him.[14]

Wood was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1979.[15]

References edit

  1. ^ Justus D. Doenecke, "General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of A Conservative," (1978).
  2. ^ a b "Robert E. Wood papers". Herbert Hoover Presidential Library via econmcode website. 2013. Archived from the original on June 3, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Missouri Historical Review, Vol. XII. Columbia, Missouri: Historical Society of Missouri. 1918. p. 244.
  4. ^ Associated Press. "General Wood Clings to Independence of Thought". Youngstown Vindicator. March 10, 1940. (Retrieved via Google News January 10, 2023).
  5. ^ "General Robert e. Wood (1879-1969)".
  6. ^ "Robert e. Wood | 20th Century American Leaders Database". Archived from the original on September 2, 2006. Retrieved May 28, 2006.
  7. ^ "History of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati". Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  8. ^ "General Robert E. Wood (1879-1969)". March 21, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2023.
  9. ^ Hoover, Gary (August 22, 2018). "General Robert Wood: The Forgotten Man Who Changed Sears and the World". Retrieved April 30, 2023.
  10. ^ Simkin, John. "Robert E. Wood". Retrieved April 30, 2023.
  11. ^ "Rites Today in Cathedral for Gen. Wood". Chicago Tribune. November 8, 1969. p. 75. Retrieved April 20, 2024 – via
  12. ^ Kapos, Shia (January 30, 2017). "Kapos: Trump's 'America first' theme has strong ties to Chicago". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  13. ^ "Americans Named To Legion of Honor: Slemp and Associates to Get Ranks for Assistance at Colonial Exposition". The Washington Post. September 22, 1932. p. 7.
  14. ^ "Our Story | True Value Club". April 9, 2016. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  15. ^ "Laureates 1975-present". April 30, 2023. Retrieved April 30, 2023.

Further reading edit

  • Chang, Myong-Hun, and Joseph E. Harrington Jr. "Organizational structure and firm innovation in a retail chain." Computational & Mathematical Organization Theory 3.4 (1998): 267-288. compares Wood with Montgomery Ward's Sewell Avery online[dead link]
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of a Conservative." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 71.3 (1978): 162-175. in JSTOR
  • Emmet, Boris, and John E. Jeuck. Catalogues and Counters: A History of Sears, Roebuck and Company (U of Chicago Press, 1950)
  • Worthy, James C. Shaping an American institution: Robert E. Wood and Sears, Roebuck (1986).

External links edit