Macy's was founded by Rowland Hussey Macy, who between 1843 and 1855 opened four retail dry goods stores, including the original Macy's store in downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts, established in 1851 to serve the mill industry employees of the area. They all failed, but he learned from his mistakes. Macy moved to New York City in 1858 and established a new store named "R. H. Macy & Co." on Sixth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, which was far north of where other dry goods stores were at the time.:1102 On the company's first day of business on October 28, 1858 sales totaled $11.08, equal to $313.34 today. From the beginning, Macy's logo has included a star, which comes from a tattoo that Macy got as a teenager when he worked on a Nantucket whaling ship, the Emily Morgan.
As the business grew, Macy's expanded into neighboring buildings, opening more and more departments, and used publicity devices such as a store Santa Claus, themed exhibits, and illuminated window displays to draw in customers.:945–6 It also offered a money back guarantee, although it accepted only cash into the 1950s. The store also produced its own made-to-measure clothing for both men and women, assembled in an on-site factory.:1102
In 1875, Macy took on two partners, Robert M. Valentine (1850–1879), a nephew; and Abiel T. La Forge (1842–1878) of Wisconsin, who was the husband of a cousin. Macy died in 1877 from inflammatory kidney disease (then known as Bright's disease). La Forge died the following year, and Valentine died in 1879. Ownership of the company remained in the Macy family until 1895, when the company, now called "R. H. Macy & Co.", was acquired by Isidor Straus and his brother Nathan Straus, who had previously held a license to sell china and other goods in the Macy's store.
Construction of Macy's Herald Square
In 1902, the flagship store moved uptown to Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway, so far north of the other main dry goods emporia that it had to offer a steam wagonette to transport customers from 14th Street to 34th Street. Although the Herald Square store initially consisted of just one building, it expanded through new construction, eventually occupying almost the entire block bounded by Seventh Avenue on the west, Broadway on the east, 34th Street on the south and 35th Street on the north, with the exception of a small pre-existing building on the corner of 35th Street and Seventh Avenue and another on the corner of 34th Street and Broadway. This latter 5-story building was purchased by Robert H. Smith in 1900 for $375,000 (equivalent to $11 million in 2018) – an incredible sum at the time – with the idea of getting in the way of Macy's becoming the largest store in the world: it is largely supposed that Smith, who was a neighbor of the Macy's store on 14th Street, was acting on behalf of Siegel-Cooper, which had built what they thought was the world's largest store on Sixth Avenue in 1896. Macy's ignored the tactic, and simply built around the building, which now carries Macy's "shopping bag" sign by lease arrangement. In 1912, Isidor Straus died in the sinking of the Titanic at the age of 67 with his wife, Ida.
The original Broadway store was designed by architects De Lemos & Cordes, was built in 1901–02 by the Fuller Company and has a Palladian facade, but has been updated in many details. There were further additions to the west in 1924 and 1928, and the Seventh Avenue building in 1931, all designed by architect Robert D. Kohn, the newer buildings were increasingly Art Deco in style. In 2012, Macy's began the first full renovation of the iconic Herald Square flagship store at a reported cost of $400 million. Studio V Architecture, a New York-based firm, was the overall Master Plan architect of the project. Studio V's design raised controversy over the nature of contemporary design and authentic restoration.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
The Macy's West flagship store in San Francisco, the former O'Connor, Moffat & Co. flagship
In the 1960s, Macy's built a store on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, in the New York City borough of Queens. This resulted in a round department store on 90 percent of the lot, with a small privately owned house on the corner. Macy's no longer fully occupies this building, which now contains the Queens Place Mall, with Macy's Furniture Gallery as a tenant; instead it moved its full outlet to the nearby Queens Center.
More distant acquisitions included Lasalle & Koch (Toledo, 1924), Davison-Paxon-Stokes (Atlanta, 1929), L. Bamberger & Co. (Newark, 1929), O'Connor Moffat & Company (San Francisco, 1945) and John Taylor Dry Goods Co. (Kansas City, 1947). O'Connor Moffat was renamed Macy's San Francisco in 1947, later becoming Macy's California, and John Taylor was renamed Macy's Missouri-Kansas in 1949. Stores in Toledo retained the Lasalle's name until 1981, joining the Missouri-Kansas stores to become Macy's Midwest. The Toledo stores were sold to Elder-Beerman in 1986.
Macy's New York began opening stores outside of its historic New York City–Long Island trade area in 1983 with a location at Aventura Mall in Aventura, Florida (a suburb of Miami), followed by several locations in Plantation, Florida (now relocated from the Fashion Mall to the Broward Mall since the Burdine's acquisition), Houston, New Orleans, and Dallas. Davison's in Atlanta was renamed Macy's Atlanta in early 1985 with the consolidation of an early incarnation of Macy's Midwest (former Taylor and Lasalle's stores in Kansas City and Toledo, respectively), but late in 1985, Macy's sold the former Midwest locations. Bamberger's, which had aggressively expanded throughout New Jersey, into the Greater Philadelphia Metropolitan area in the 1960s and 1970s as well as into Nanuet, New York (southern Rockland County), and into the Baltimore metropolitan area in the early 1980s, was renamed Macy's New Jersey in 1986.