Robert E. Wood

Robert Elkington Wood (June 13, 1879 November 6, 1969) was an American military officer and business executive. After retiring from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general, Wood had a successful career as a corporate executive, most notably with Sears, Roebuck and Company. A Republican, Wood was a leader in the Old Right American Conservatism movement from the 1920s through the 1960s[1] as well as a key financial backer of the America First Committee prior to the United States' entry into World War II.


Robert E. Wood
Birth nameRobert Elkington Wood
Born(1879-06-13)June 13, 1879
Kansas City, Missouri
DiedNovember 6, 1969(1969-11-06) (aged 90)
Lake Forest, Illinois
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service19001915
Rank Brigadier general
Battles/warsPhilippine–American War

World War I

AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Legion of Honour-Chevalier (France)
Order of St Michael and St George (Great Britain)
Spouse(s)Mary (Hardwick) Wood
RelationsTwo daughters: Frances E. (Wood) Fentress, Sara S. A. (Wood) Arrmour
Other workBusiness executive

Early life

Wood was born to parents Robert Whitney and Lillie (Collins) Wood in Kansas City, Missouri.[2] Following graduation from Kansas City Central High School in 1895 he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1900 as a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry.[3]

Military career

As an officer in the United States Army, he was stationed in the Philippines participating in field service during the Philippine insurrection. From 1902 to 1903 he was assigned to Fort Assiniboin, Montana and then for three years as an instructor at West Point. In 1905 he became the Assistant Chief Quartermaster and later the Chief Quartermaster and Director of the Panama Railroad Company. He served in the Panama Canal Zone for ten years, during the construction of the canal.

Wood retired in July 1915, by special act of Congress as a major. Following this retirement he worked as assistant to the vice president of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours Company and headed operations in the United States, Venezuela, and Trinidad for the General Asphalt Company.[4] He briefly served as Purchasing Agent of the Emergency Fleet Corporation in early 1917.

In 1917, on the eve of America's entry into the First World War, Wood returned to the Army as an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel. He served in Europe with the 42nd (Rainbow) Division and was promoted to colonel. Later in the war Wood would serve as transportation director for the entire American Expeditionary Forces in France.[3] Toward the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general and made acting Quartermaster General of the Army. In June 1916, prior to America's entry into the war, Wood's brother, Captain Stanley Wood, was killed in action while serving as a volunteer in the Canadian Army.[3]

Post military career

After the leaving the army again in 1919, Wood became an executive at Montgomery Ward, eventually becoming a vice-president of the company. In 1924, he left Montgomery Ward to take a position of vice-president of Sears Roebuck. He became one of the most important leaders in that company's history, serving as president from 1928 until 1939 and as chairman from 1939 until 1954.[5] Under his leadership, Sears shifted the focus of its operations from mail-order sales to retail sales at large urban department stores. Wood also created Allstate Insurance as a subsidiary of Sears.[6]

In 1950, he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.[7]

Wood, once again, served as an honorary chairman for Sears from 1968 until shortly before his death in 1969, leaving a good portion of his stocks to family members.

Political life

Wood was also politically active and was noted as a conservative Republican. In 1940, he helped found the America First Committee to oppose U.S. involvement in the Second World War; he served as the committee's first president on an interim basis. In 1954, Wood funded the creation of the Manion Forum, a conservative radio program hosted by Clarence Manion.

Personal life

Robert Wood married Mary Butler Hardwick of Augusta, Georgia on April 30, 1908.[2] They were the parents of five children: four daughters and a son. Daughter Frances Elkington (Wood) Fentress, (March 27, 1910 March 19, 1996), was married to Calvin H. Fentress, who became president and chairman of Allstate Insurance Company.[8] Daughter Sarah Stires (Wood) (Addington) Armour, (January 3, 1912 August 26, 2010), was twice-married, first to James R. Addington, and later to Andrew Watson Armour III of the Armour meatpacking family. She was involved in music philanthropy in the Chicago area, including serving as a board member for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Ravinia Festival.[9] The other children were Anne Hardwick Wood, Mary Stovall Wood, and son Robert Whitney Wood II.[10] A great grandson, Keene Addington, is a Chicago restaurateur who currently runs the Tortoise Supper Club.[11]

Decorations and honors

Bronze busts honoring Wood and seven other industry magnates stand between the Chicago River and the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, Illinois. Formerly, General Wood had a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago named after him (

Gen. Wood was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1979.


  1. Justus D. Doenecke, "General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of A Conservative," (1978).
  2. "Robert E. Wood papers". Herbert Hoover Presidential Library via econmcode website. 2013. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  3. Missouri Historical Review, Vol. XII. Columbia, Missouri: Historical Society of Missouri. 1918. p. 244.
  4. Associated Press. "General Wood Clings to Independence of Thought". Youngstown Vindicator. March 10, 1940. (Retrieved via Google News 10/25/10).
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2006-05-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-22. Retrieved 2013-01-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. "Calvin H. Fentress, Jr". Find A 7 July 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  9. "Sara Stires Addington Wood Armour". Find A 7 July 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  10. "Robert E. Wood profile". 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  11. Kapos, Shia. Trump's 'America first' theme has strong ties to Chicago. Chicago Sun Times January 30, 2017. Accessed January 30, 2017.

Further reading

  • Chang, Myong-Hun, and Joseph E. Harrington Jr. "Organizational structure and firm innovation in a retail chain." Computational & Mathematical Organization Theory 3.4 (1998): 267-288. compares Wood with Montgomery Ward's Sewell Avery online
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "General Robert E. Wood: The Evolution of a Conservative." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 71.3 (1978): 162-175. in JSTOR
  • Emmet, Boris, and John E. Jeuck. Catalogues and Counters: A History of Sears, Roebuck and Company (U of Chicago Press, 1950)
  • Worthy, James C. Shaping an American institution: Robert E. Wood and Sears, Roebuck (1986).
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