Continuing the Dynamic Leadership
Arthur MacDougall Wood.
By Megan McKinney
The second Wood to lead Sears was Arthur MacDougall Wood, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton—where he was captain of the golf team—and Harvard Law School. Unlike the Wood who preceded him, MacDougall, as his family and close friends called him, came up through the ranks at Sears.
He joined the legal department in 1946, after serving in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel in World War II, and remained with the company for more than three decades.
MacDougall Wood was immersed in the Chicago purple. His father, R. Arthur Wood, a broker, was president of the Chicago Stock Exchange. Impressive as that may be, MacDougall’s wife, Pauline Palmer, outdid him—by far.
Pauline Palmer, right, with her older sister, Bertha.
As granddaughter of the first Potter Palmer and his wife Bertha, Pauline’s position possibly trumped the standing of all her Chicago contemporaries. Furthermore, her maternal grandfather was Herman Kohlsaat, a prominent 19th century Chicago newspaper publisher and adviser to U.S. presidents.
The Palmer “Castle.”
Pauline’s parents, Potter Palmer II and his wife, the former Pauline Kohlsaat, raised their children in the city’s grandest showplace, the Palmer “Castle” on Lake Shore Drive, where Pauline and her siblings played on gym equipment installed in the yard and rode tricycles around the hallowed grounds.
Pauline climbing monkey bars on the Castle grounds.
In the late 1920s, the family moved to an apartment in the new Philip Maher building at 1301 Astor. The three-story Palmer apartment, with its David Adler-designed interior and dazzling Art Deco mirrored entry, was in its own way no less striking than the Castle they had vacated.
The fabulous Art Deco mirrored entry was designed by David Adler. (The photography collection within was assembled by a much later owner.)
Portions of winters were spent at The Oaks, the 350-acre Sarasota, Florida estate Bertha Palmer acquired after the death of the first Potter.
During the sweltering Chicago summers, the family moved to Hare Forest, their spacious shingle-style summer place at Bar Harbor, Maine, where lazy days were spent swimming, sailing and playing tennis.
When the children were older, they lunched regularly with the young summer crowd at the Bar Harbor Club and attended the twice-weekly club dances.
MacDougall Wood on the right and Pauline Palmer’s brother Gregory relax on the diving board at the Bar Harbor Club pool. The towel-wrapped young woman is unidentified.
After joining Sears in 1946, it didn’t take long for MacDougall Wood to impress chief executive General Wood, according to the Chicago Tribune in 2006. “The general would embarrass him by saying, ‘Young Artie Wood is one of our bright young men and he’s going to run this company someday.’”
Yet, it was true. He was clearly being groomed for a key position at the company, with postings around the country, including one in California lasting nearly five years, as head of the company’s Far West territory. The presidency followed in 1968.
Wood, above left, served as Sears’ chairman and chief executive from 1973 until his retirement in 1978. During his brief tenure, this Wood presided over construction of the Bruce Graham-Fazlur Khan tour de force, once the world’s tallest building (in certain categories), known then as the Sears Tower. So much has changed in a relatively short period; however, one thing will not, the signature Arthur MacDougall Wood on the last beam used to build the great skyscraper will remain for a very long time.
Arthur MacDougall Wood was 93, when he died of complications from pneumonia and heart failure in 2006.
Among his legacies was the Claude Monet oil painting he gave to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1985, in memory of his wife, who had died the previous year. The painting below and others by the artist belonging to the extended family of Bertha Palmer will be on display during a three-month Claude Monet show at the museum during the summer of 2020.
Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer) by Claude Monet.
Selected Images: The Letters of Pauline Palmer by Eleanor Dwight
Robert F. Carl