1952 Sears Allstate; photo courtesy RemarkableCars.com. Click image to enlarge
By Bill Vance
Selling cars in retail general stores, or occasionally through the catalogue, was fairly rare, but it has happened. When the little Crosley was introduced by radio and appliance manufacturer Powel Crosley of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1939, he sold them in his retail stores. He would later go to a dealer system like other manufacturers. The tiny King Midget micocar was also sold by mail order by the Athens, Ohio factory in either assembled or kit form.
In the early part of the twentieth century the great mail order house Sears, Roebuck and Co. of Chicago sold their Sears Motor Buggy and Motor Wagon by mail order and delivered it by train. From 1906 to 1911 their high-wheeler Sears cars and utility vehicles were manufactured by the Sears Motor Car Co. of Chicago. In 1911 they switched to Lincolns, mostly commercial vehicles, which were really the Sears made by Lincoln Motor Works of Chicago (no relation to the later Lincoln built by Ford) which they sold until 1914.
Almost 40 years later, Sears Roebuck returned to the department store car business with the Sears Allstate, a thinly disguised Henry J compact car. The Henry J was manufactured by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation of Willow Run, Michigan which had been founded in 1945 by construction magnate Henry Kaiser and Graham-Paige Motors president Joe Frazer. K-F cars, including the Henry J, were manufactured in a huge war surplus plant in Willow Run that was acquired from the United States government after the Second World War and converted to auto production.
K-F flourished for a while in the post-war seller’s market selling full-size, popular priced and mid-level cars. By the early 1950s they were able to fulfill a long-time dream of Henry Kaiser’s by introducing a small, affordable car called the Henry J. It arrived as a 1951 model.
Sears, Roebuck had been considering a return to the car business as early as 1948 and had talked to Kaiser-Frazer. By the fall of 1951 Sears and K-F finalized a deal and in November they signed a three-year agreement in which K-F would supply Sears with Henry Js fitted with a distinctive Sears Allstate grille and other trim. Its badge featured an outline of the United States. The cars would be fitted with Sears components like tires and tubes, batteries and spark plugs, sold through Sears stores and serviced by Sears auto accessory centres. Initially marketing was in the south and southwest, with plans to expand as demand grew.