The Rather Intriguing Story of the
Hammacher Schlemmer
175 years Ledgend
Hammacher Shlemmer Original Shop


In the beginning there was hardware. On New York’s lower Bowery, in 1848, the small firm that was to become Hammacher Schlemmer—today one of America’s oldest, most venerated quality retailers— began by selling the finest tools available to carpenters and iron mongers. In those days there were no brand names to speak of, there was little advertising: the only standard was quality, and quality—functional quality—became our byword.

Over the decades much has changed at Hammacher Schlemmer. But our original philosophy has remained constant: we sell only the best and most functional—whether it be state-of-the-art, commercial-grade products or products that are simply the best in the marketplace.

The Nothing Box, The Two-Person Submarine, The Life Size Tyrannosaurus, The Golf Cart Hovercraft

“A History Of Innovation”

You may know us, as almost everyone does, for offering unusual items such as a two-person submarine, a hovercraft golf cart, or a life size Tyrannosaurus skeleton. You may also know us for such amusing (some would say bizarre) curiosities as our famous blinking Nothing Box. President Eisenhower bought one of them; the world’s most famous rock group bought them by the hundreds and had public relations photos taken with them.

Like almost every Hammacher Schlemmer customer, they sought things no one else can offer. We introduced the pop-up toaster, the steam iron, and the pressure cooker. We were the first store to sell portable radios (they weighed thirty pounds!), the kitchen blender, electric razors, pocket calculators, humidifiers, high-intensity lamps, microwave ovens, the telephone answering machine, the Mr. Coffee maker, the Roomba robotic vacuum—all in the vanguard of technology at the time, today simply household necessities.

We are told that our real reputation, beyond the esoteric gadgetry and whimsical oddities, is for things that work. There’s nothing especially odd in the no-nonsense utility of our products. Indeed, there’s only one true oddity at Hammacher Schlemmer: every article here is superior, the very best of its kind at its price.

lockwise from top:We were one of the first stores lighted by electricity; Wood Plane, circa 1884; Bell Telephone Subscriber list?our name misspelled; Commendation from the U.S. War Department.

Our History

We’ve come a long way since our early days in the Bowery and the small storefront hardware business opened by Charles Tollner in 1848. By the 1860s we had moved to larger quarters and established our mail order business.

We coined our own money during the Civil War, were one of the first stores lighted by electricity, and we were among the original 279 subscribers to the Bell Telephone System. Our first major reference catalog was issued in 1881. By 1883 our reputation extended well beyond the neighborhood we originally served. And by the turn of the century, Hammacher Schlemmer had the largest inventory of tools and hardware on the Atlantic seaboard, plus an automotive parts and tools department to serve the needs of the new horseless carriage and its intrepid drivers.

In 1912 we had a fleet of electric trucks that delivered goods to our customers. In 1918 we received a commendation from the U.S. War Department for our service to munitions factories during WWI. But we soon transitioned our hardware business to a more diversified line, much of it powered by electricity. And as we continued to grow, kings, heads of state, the celebrated and the discriminating looked to us to find the unusual, hard-to-find, quality items which have built our reputation over 175 years.

The Queen Mother had her picture taken in our store while shopping for Christmas gifts.

Business Titans, Famous Movie Stars, Artistic Luminaries

Kings, presidents, Arab sheiks, the cream of European nobility, all have shopped here regularly, elbow to elbow with our other customers, who are less exalted perhaps, but no less discriminating. A Middle Eastern king indulged himself in a $128,000 impulse-buying spree which included a poolside hotdog stand and a working half-scale replica of a Model T Ford. Franklin Roosevelt purchased his Christmas gifts for his staff and cabinet from us. Alexander Calder bought piano wire from us for his mobiles and Isaac Singer bought parts for his sewing machine.

When the wife of a U.S. president became dissatisfied with White House closets, she commissioned Hammacher Schlemmer to redecorate and re-equip them, complete with mirrors and our quilted coat hangers. The Duke of Windsor had a penchant for our “torches”—the English term for flashlights—and bought them in every shape and variety. J. Edgar Hoover, America’s original G-Man, once purchased an elephant gong.

The First Smoke Capturing Kitchen Hood (Right) The Tranquility Pod (Bottom)

Uncommon & Uncompromising

Every year we view and evaluate more than 3,000 “better mousetraps”—marvelous and sometimes absurd inventions and gadgets. The best and most functional of these are developed and perfected and eventually become part of Hammacher Schlemmer’s regular inventory. But when an item becomes widely accepted and other retailers start selling it, we generally eliminate it from our stock.

For over 175 years, our employees have been zealous custodians of the Hammacher Schlemmer tradition. Just about everything we sell, in fact, reflects our desire to find the uncommon and workable—from the Tranquility Pod to the First Capturing Kitchen “Hood”.

stallions for a maharajah

Never Say No

At least three times a year we travel to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, exploring nooks and crannies on our continual quest for innovative products. On our website and in our catalog is a sampling of what we have found, along with some of the best American products available today.

If you don’t see what you want in this catalog, call us on our toll-free telephone order line: (800) 543-3366. We probably have it in stock—in our gourmet shop; housewares department; outdoor living shop; bedding, health, and comfort departments; or exercise department. And if you want something that’s really out-of-the-ordinary, we can find that too. Our philosophy is, “Never to say no”. We have bought stallions for a maharajah, arranged for the construction of a cliffside elevator for a South American industrialist, and purchased a year’s supply of hairnets for a celebrated noblewoman. What we did for them, we can do for you. Just ask us.