American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge grew up in poverty and cut his teeth working his way up at Marshall Fields department store in Chicago. But he had big ideas: bringing his American-style egalitarian attitude to London to create a revolutionary shopping experience. His department store Selfridges, opened in 1909, was a sensation, and has been a landmark on Oxford Street for over a century.
This hour-long “Secrets of” special explains the many ways that Harry Selfridge changed British shopping forever. For instance, his huge, single-pane street-level display windows became a lure in themselves, he was a staunch supporter of the suffragettes, and his store had the first public women’s restroom, which would allow female shoppers to linger all day (taking tea breaks in the store’s restaurant to refuel). Heck, he can even be thanked for coining the marketing phrase “Only [XX] number of days until Christmas!”
Despite the fact that Selfridge trumpeted equality among the classes in his own store, encouraging all types to shop there (Selfridges was famous for their range of prices, including a bargain floor), he was surprisingly classist in his own life. Though he became filthy rich from his endeavors in the UK, he felt like his new money was never quite enough to completely appeal him to the British upper class. He squandered his fortune in gambling and died penniless. Sadly, the whole time his son kept his own wife and children from Harry Selfridge because he knew his father would never accept that he married a shopgirl.
Selfridge the man has been explored in the series Mr. Selfridge. But if you want more facts and less soap opera, you can get all you need from this fascinating hour about a fascinating man and his dream.