The Invention of the Price Tag

The price tag is an accepted part of our daily lives.  Prior to the mid-19th century, though, Americans haggled over prices.  When the price tag emerged in the 1860s, it was therefore a significant innovation.

There is some question as to who “invented” the price tag.  John Wanamker, a Presbyterian storekeeper in Philadelphia, often gets credit.  Wanamaker operated a flagship department store in Philadelphia, and several other department stores in other cities, including New York.  In 1861, he introduced price tags in his Philadelphia store, which were prominently placed on his products.

Before Wanamaker introduced the price tag, however, Quakers commonly used fixed prices for their goods.  Out of a belief that all men are equal before God, some quaker merchants decided all men should receive the same price.  Philadelhia Quaker merchants were fairly successful throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, so the practice apparently worked it.  It’s not surprising, then, that the price tag itself should be invented in the Quaker hotbed of Philadelphia, even if it was not invented by a Quaker.

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