That Little Red Star that is Macy’s logo was first tattooed on the hand of Rowland Hussey Macy, Sr. (1822-1877). Rowland was one of six children born to the Macy family; one of the first families to come to Nantucket.
At the age of 15, Rowland Hussey Macy Sr., worked on the whaling ship the Emily Morgan and had a RED STAR tattooed on his hand which would latter become part of the stores logo.
Between 1843 and 1855, Macy opened four retail dry good stores from Nantucket to Haverhill, Massachusetts. Macy then moved to New York City in 1858 and established a new store named R.H. Macy Dry Goods at the corner of 6th Avenue and 14th street; Known to many today, as Union Square.
On the company’s first day of business on October 28, 1858 sales totaled $11.08, equal to $298.41 today. As the business grew, Macy’s expanded into neighboring buildings, opening up more and more departments, and used publicity devices such as a store Santa Claus, themed exhibits, and illuminated window displays to draw in customers.
The store also produced its own made-to-measure clothing for both men and women, assembled in an on-site factory. The store later moved to 18th Street and Broadway, on the “Ladies Mile” elite shopping district of the time, where it remained for nearly forty years.
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 just two years later in 1877 from Brights’s Disease the following year La Forge died and Valentine died in 1879. Ownership of the company was passed down through 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.
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!