History Proposal

The place that I’ve wanted to research is the Macy’s department store on 34th street and Herald Square. To me, it was easy to pick a place that I would enjoy researching. I wanted to pick something that was at once both modern and timeless. Such a perfect staple of New York’s history, of progress and familiarity, was obvious. When I was younger, I could not appreciate the vast department store, or its beauty and affordable prices. Now I better understand the mechanics of the nearly ninety-year-old department store, the inspiration that the Macy’s has given media, and the pure functionality of such a large building (for hundreds of needs). It strikes me now to recognize just how important the Macy’s was to my childhood. More than a place for Christmas dresses and my mother’s favorite store, the Macy’s was the reason we visited a Santa Claus in the mall, and had a movie to watch every Christmas. For years, we’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an important tradition to hundreds of thousands of families in the northeast, and the rest of the country.

I am hoping to learn more about why Macy’s has both developed and continued, all while staying true to its roots. Through a few years of expansion, Macy’s became the largest department store in the country in the 1920’s, from its humble beginnings as a small store for exotic spices. I am hoping that I can “uncover” some of the darker spots of the Macy’s history – right now, I view the Macy’s the same way I viewed Andrew Rockefeller a few years ago.  It was only after extensive research of exactly how one of the world’s largest fortunes was made that I realized that Rockefeller was not only a man involved in construction projects (and oil) around New York. Already I have discovered how Macy’s built around a small shop that refused to sell its property to the large company when it was expanding, and how they got around it by simply building around the property. It is these quirky little moments in the Macy’s that I want to discover.

I will do my observations often and thoroughly. I will comb through John Jay’s database to find articles, primary sources from a hundred years ago, and books detailing the building up of Herald Square that will hopefully give me better insight into the history of the department store. I am also hoping to learn more about the man behind the store – already I have learned that the famous star logo is homage to a tattoo that Macy had himself. I would like to find out something as small as why Macy picked a star tattoo, and why that became the face of his company. I am eager to discover the mysterious secrets and essential meaning of the infinitesimal details within the great department store, those of which are not discernible to the broad population, the people who will not explore the history of Macy’s as extensively as I will. I want to learn more about the renovations of the Macy’s, and uncover personal stories of people that have been affected by the department store, in both good and bad ways. I have heard dozens of women sigh in happiness when I mention the infamous company, speaking highly of the customer service and the yearly sales. I am excited to find more instances of the media and the Macy’s – while Miracle on 34th Street is one of the most famous pieces of history centering around the Macy’s and Herald Square, I have found that some people think that the Gimbels in the movie Elf was also based around the Macy’s (to which others explain to them that Gimbels was a real store).

My final method of research will be to personally observe the Macy’s. I will be able to interview a few of the employees, as well as a potential few managers or forever-loyal customers. I will be able to take my own photos and conduct my own surveys, which will help me to better understand not only the modern day Macy’s, but to give me a better idea of how informed the average store-goer is about the history of the store. I will learn more about the way that the business has developed, and what new ideas will keep it going. Macy’s has been the country’s reigning department store since 1858, and learning more about Macy’s, Incorporated and the other facets of what makes the company work will help me an incredible amount during this history project.


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