New Books Network

Nicole C. Kirk

Wanamaker’s Temple

The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store

New York University Press 2018

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network October 10, 2019 Al Zambone

“On Christmas Eve, 1911, John Wanamaker stood in the middle of his elaborately decorated department store building in Philadelphia as shoppers milled around him...

“On Christmas Eve, 1911, John Wanamaker stood in the middle of his elaborately decorated department store building in Philadelphia as shoppers milled around him picking up last minute Christmas presents. On that night, as for years to come, the store was filled with the sound of Christmas carols sung by thousands of shoppers, accompanied by the store’s Great Organ. Wanamaker recalled that moment in his diary, ‘I said to myself that I was in a temple,’ a sentiment quite possibly shared by the thousands who thronged the store that night.”

This is a conversation about a Philadelphian and his store, told by guest Nicole C. Kirk in Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store (New York University Press, 2018). Which might sound rather boring. But it’s really a conversation about nineteenth century stores, shopping, consumerism, Christianity, the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, social responsibility, art, beauty, Temple University, Dwight Moody, John Ruskin, Horace Bushnell, Christmas decorations, organs, eagles, World’s Fairs, and the curiously innovative mind of Philadelphia’s John Wanamaker.


Al Zambone is a historian and the host of the podcast Historically Thinking. You can subscribe to Historically Thinking on Apple Podcasts.