Sanger Brothers: “Forward With Texas Since 1857”

Isaac Sanger was born in Bavaria in 1836. By 1852 he was in New York City.

By 1857, the year he was naturalized, he was in New Orleans. But that year he left New Orleans and headed west. “Texas is a land of promise,” he said. “Texas has a great future. My brothers and I will open stores in north Texas. We plan to go forward with Texas.”

Isaac Sanger opened the first Sanger dry goods store in McKinney that year. The store’s stock was delivered from Houston by ox wagon. The trip took one month. Soon brother Lehman joined Isaac, and they opened stores in Decatur and Weatherford.

In 1861, when secession and war came, Lehman buried three hundred dollars in gold six feet deep, and the two brothers joined the Confederate Army.

After the war Lehman dug up his gold. Brothers Philip, Samuel, David, Jacob, and Alexander joined Isaac and Lehman. As the Houston & Texas Central railroad laid track north from Houston in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the Sanger brothers built stores in the railroad towns: Millican, Bryan, Hearne, Calvert, Bremond, Kosse, Groesbeck, Corsicana, Sherman, Waco. On average, the first stores were the size of today’s two-car garage.

sanger ad 3-9-72 dhIn 1872 the brothers opened a store in Dallas.

In 1875 the brothers repeated their business model and opened a dry goods store in Fort Worth on Houston Street. As the Sanger chain grew, the brothers opened a buying office in New York City, an advertising department, a credit union. Among early Sanger salesmen were Frank James, brother of Jesse James, and Herbert Marcus, who would found Neiman Marcus in 1907.

The brothers ran big ads . . .

and small ads.

sanger-postcard-dallasAn early Sanger building in Dallas.

Judging from gaps in newspaper advertising and listings in city directories, the Sanger brothers did not operate a store in Fort Worth from 1880 to 1917, although they operated a piano parlor on Lamar Street in 1913. In 1917 they opened a department store at Main and 2nd streets.

sanger deadIsaac Sanger died on January 17, 1918—102 years ago. Clip is from the Dallas Morning News.

sanger 1928 stTen years later five of the Sanger brothers were pictured in an ad in the Star-Telegram in 1928.


In 1924 Sanger’s announced that the Fort Worth store would move from its building at Main Street and 2nd to a new building designed by Wiley G. Clarkson at 515 Houston Street.

sanger-anniversary-1925Sanger’s celebrated its fifty-third anniversary in the new building in August 1925.

sanger-soon-the-newBut Sanger’s did not stay in that new building long. In 1929 Sanger’s moved into a newer new building at 410 Houston Street. The new store had 93,000 square feet of shopping space with “the finest air conditioning plant known to modern science . . .  comfort rooms on every floor . . . modern sanitary drinking fountains on every floor.”

The new store also had a radio department.

This is the Sanger’s building at 410 Houston Street, designed by Wyatt Hedrick.

sanger pc loganPostcard from Barbara Love Logan.

Sanger’s, like most of the downtown department stores, offered customers who didn’t want to shop in person the option of shopping by phone or mail via a “personal shopper.” In fact, to appeal to shoppers in west Texas, the store advertised in the Abilene newspaper. “Barbara Worth” would be glad to help from 150 miles away.

sanger-summer-clearanceBut even Barbara Worth couldn’t save the new Sanger’s. The new store opened on June 25, 1929. In July 1930 the Sanger store was having a summer clearance sale.

sanger-consolidationBy August the Sanger store was having a consolidation and removal sale. Yes, the store was closing.

sanger-now-worthBy November the building was the home of “the Worth Dept. Store formerly Sanger Bros.”

sanger uso 45 cd

After the Fort Worth Sanger’s store closed, in 1943 the building was remodeled and became the largest United Service Organizations (USO, Service Men’s Center) club in the country. After the war J. C. Penney moved in from next door and stayed until the early 1970s. Part of the building is now lofts.

The Sanger’s stores were bought by Federated Department Stores in 1951. Federated also owned Foley’s stores. The Sanger’s stores became Sanger-Harris stores in 1961. A Sanger-Harris store opened in Six Flags Mall in 1970. The Sanger-Harris stores were absorbed by the Foley’s chain in 1987. The Sanger name was gone. The motto of the Sanger brothers—“Forward with Texas since 1857”—had survived 130 years in Texas and, by my count, thirty-six years in Fort Worth/Arlington.

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13 Responses to Sanger Brothers: “Forward With Texas Since 1857”

  1. Gene Sanger says:

    What a great compilation of stories and historical ads. Thanks so much.

    Eugene (Gene) Kahn Sanger (jr.)

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Mr. Sanger. The Sanger and Kahn families have been a big part of Texas retail history.

  2. Thank you for this post! Lehman Sanger is actually my great, great, great grandfather and I’m named after his grandson Lee Sanger Ettelson. Always love hearing about my family history and glad that others are interested too.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Lee. Sanger was a household name in Texas for many years.

    • Vickie Vogel says:

      Lee, I am writing an article about Lee Sanger Ettelson for the Texas Jewish Historical Society news magazine. Please contact me about photos. I also messaged you on Facebook.

  3. Jerry Guyer says:

    Is the caption “This is the Sanger Brothers building in Dallas about 1910” correct? Check the Dallas Sanborn Fire Maps. I believe that you will find that the building that is part of El Centro College has had the same footprint since at least 1885. If there was only one Dallas location in 1910, then the photo can’t be of the Dallas Sanger Bros.

    • hometown says:

      Jerry, in the 1911 Dallas city directory Sanger’s was listed at 612-614 Elm (at North Market Street), 800-816 Elm, and 809-815 Main. I found a postcard that identifies the building in the photo as “Dallas” but with no address or date. But I would have more confidence in the 1910 date if there was an automobile in the photo, so I have hedged on the date. I will continue to research. Thanks.

  4. Wade Hyde says:

    Sanger-Harris returns to Dallas…if just for three weeks!

    El Centro College presents “Before El Centro: Sanger-Harris,” an exhibit of historic clothing, promotional materials, and other related artifacts from the once iconic Dallas retailer, Sanger-Harris, from October 10, through November 4, 2016, at the H. Paxton Moore Fine Art Gallery.

  5. Barbara Love Logan says:

    Yet again, Mike, you have turned out a marvel of deep research for another of your excellent stories. Congratulations!
    Also,I am so honored and pleased that the Sanger postcard worked in, thanks for the mention, by the way.)
    I absolutely love your work. THANKS!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Barbara. And thanks for the postcards. It’s always interesting to learn the history of our “household names.”

  6. Jo Ann Nicholas says:

    Great History I was not aware of. I thought Sanger-Harris was the greatest store ever and raised my kids from their sale-bins. I hated the name Foley & thought it was too “white bread” and uninteresting.Ha. Thanks for a great read!

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