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Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
Mail-order Catalogues image
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Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities

What Is It?

Social Studies, History, Information Technology

Change, Ways of life


  • Mail-order catalogues on this site
  • Photographs of artifacts from Eaton's catalogues (links below)
  • Teacher hints (below)


  1. Ask students to select an object from the list of photographs below. Note its name.
  2. By using the historical catalogue pages accessed from this site, and with the help of the indexes, students must find out when it was used, what it was used for, and what it cost.


  • Foot warmer
  • Shoe and harness repair kit
  • Pair of sad iron handles and bases
  • Meat grinder
  • Foot-powered sewing machine
  • Electric toaster
  • Electric washing machine.

Teacher Hints

Foot warmer, ca ?
On a cold winter's night in a home heated by a woodstove, a stoneware foot warmer filled with hot water would have been a welcome addition to a bed. Foot warmers were also used in carriages and in early automobiles that didn't have heaters.

Shoe and harness repair kit, ca 1900
This "Combination Family Cobbler/Tinker & Harness Mender" contained the tools required to perform repairs to shoes and horse harness. Included in this kit were children- and adult-sized lasts, or shoe forms, a shoemaker's hammer, a tack hammer, a leather punch, and a variety of nails.

Pair of sad iron bases and handles, ca 1900-50
Before women used electric irons to press clothes and linens, they used sad irons. Sad irons were usually sold as sets with one detachable wooden handle and three cast iron bases. Women heated two or three bases on the wood stove at a time. They attached the handle to one preheated base, used it to iron until it cooled down, and then replaced it with a heated base from the stove.

Meat grinder, ca 1910-50
At a time when people raised their own livestock and did their own butchering, many people made their own sausages and ground meats by using a hand-powered meat grinder. After clamping the grinder to a table, they would drop chunks of meat into the funnel-like hopper and turn the handle. An augur-like blade inside would grind up the meat and the resulting ground meat would squeeze out through the opening on the side into a sausage casing or a bowl.

Foot-powered sewing machine, ca 1910-50
Eaton's offered its own brand of sewing machine in its catalogues. This Eatonia sewing machine would have been fastened to a wooden cabinet with a foot-pedal underneath. By pumping the pedal with her foot and guiding the fabric with her hands, a woman could have sewn clothing that was modeled on the latest catalogue fashions.

Electric toaster, ca 1920
This electric "turn-over" toaster was used to toast one piece of bread at a time. When one side was toasted, the user flipped the bread over so the other side could be toasted too.

Electric washing machine, 1926
"All the old, wearying, back-breaking rubbing and scrubbing of wash-tub days done away with for you," boasted the advertisement for this electric washing machine in the Eaton's spring-and-summer 1926 catalogue. However, most Canadian homes did not yet have electricity in 1926 and women would continue to do the laundry using washtubs, washboards, and their own muscle power for a few more decades.


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