Tell the Story
How Nordstrom Became Nordstrom
Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but shoes are the gateway to the psyche.
—Linda O’Keefe, Shoes
John W. Nordstrom, like the founders of most of America’s retail dynasties, was an immigrant. The middle child of five, Nordstrom was born February 15, 1871, in the town of Lulea, in the northernmost part of Sweden, 60 miles below the Arctic Circle. His father, a blacksmith, wagon maker, and part-time farmer, passed away when John (born Johan) was eight years old. By the time he was 11, his mother had taken him out of school so he could work on the family farm.
His life in Sweden, by his own admission, was an unhappy one. As he got older, “My mother seemed to think I was a man, and often remarked that at my age my brother [10 years his senior] could do nearly anything and why couldn’t I,” he wrote. “I often cried when I had trouble doing things she expected me to do and couldn’t, and felt very helpless.”
The winter he turned 16 (1887), John decided to leave home and cast his lot in America. With 450 crowns (about $112) of his modest inheritance, given to him by his guardian, he bought a suit of clothes. “The first clothes I ever on my back that were not homespun and handwoven.”
His eventual destination was the Pacific Northwest of America, where thousands of Swedes thrived as fishermen, loggers, blacksmiths, shipwrights, and millwrights in a climate and landscape similar to their homeland. Others helped finish the transcontinental ...