Usually, getting supplies for the troops who would join the war is a long process: the equipment’s value has to be justified, the budget has to be approved, and there is even bidding on which company would be allowed to produce and supply the equipment. However, that was not the case when World War II broke out, and the US was not so prepared for it yet. Thankfully, the extremely wealthy and controversial General George Patton had his trusty supplier of equipment that he bought using his own money: Sears.
General Patton’s Wealth
George Smith Patton Jr. was born on November 11, 1885, in the suburb of San Gabriel, California, to an exceptionally rich family with a deep military history. Having an ancestry that contained Welsh aristocrats and some connection to the British monarchy, as well as indirect relations to George Washington, he only knew a life of privilege. This even increased when he married Beatrice Banning Ayer, the daughter of Frederick Ayer, a Boston industrialist whose family was also rolling in dough.
Even though he had trouble with spelling and reading as a kid(probably undiagnosed dyslexia), that did not stop Patton from getting a first-rate education. Patton went to the Virginia Military Institute and was a model cadet though not a very good student. He managed to secure an appointment to the United State Military Academy where he had to repeat his first year. He would end up graduating 40th in a class of over 100. His fascination with military history saw him become an expert on warfare, and he even wrote extensive works on his topic. He participated in the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Summer Games as a Modern Pentathlon specialist, where he finished 5th place overall. Apart from that, he became an expert in fencing, and he used his knowledge to design a new sword for the US cavalry.
When the United States entered the scene of WWI, he accompanied John Pershing and the American Expeditionary Force on their journey to Europe. There, he discovered his passion for tanks and their huge potential in warfare.
Sears, Amazon of its Time
Patton spent his time between the two world wars trying to increase the government investment in armored warfare, but to no avail due to budget restraint and the general lack of interest of the other parties in tanks. When World War II broke out, the US rushed to build up its military that was not prepared for wars as large as WWII was becoming at that time.
At that time, Patton met Adna Chaffee Jr., who was considered the father of US Armored Forces. Chafee assigned him as the commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade, part of the 2nd Armored Division. Patton helped in the mobilization of the brigade, and due to their unpreparedness, Patton saw himself flipping through the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog to find and buy supplies and equip his men.
This seemed like a crazy idea, but why not? Sears was the Amazon of its time where literally everything one could ever need in his life was sold, from musical instruments to toys to vet supplies to firearms. Richard Sears, the person who kicked off the business, started by selling gold watches until it grew into a general mail-order firm with incredibly thick catalogs. Patton’s purchase with Sears as part of the war effort was not the last one. In 1966, intelligence officer Jon Wiant came up with the idea of paying his spies with items that they chose from Sears catalogs, too, since he could not pay them with cold hard cash (Read the whole tale of the CIA, Spies, and the Sears Catalog During the Vietnam War here.)
Using His Own Funds
Although the US was not immediately involved in the war, they were basically caught pretty off guard by the war, or as the military says it, caught with their pants down. The mobilization that took place, in which Patton was largely involved, was not fast enough. And so, to physically equip his troops, he had no choice but to resort to Sears’ retail catalog. Not only that, but he also willingly used his own funds to buy the parts, tools, and supplies from the retail company to equip the whole 2nd Armored Division urgently.
As the U.S. Air and Space Force’s center for professional military education Air University wrote,
Newly arrived troops detrained improperly uniformed, and encountered shortages in equipment, tools, and supplies. Personal hygiene relied on G. I. issue steel helmets for washing hands, shaving, and bathing until at Patton’s direction Army quartermasters contracted with a San Bernadino Sears and Roebuck store to supply enough washbasins for the expanding number of troops. Mindful of troop morale in the hot and dusty climate, Patton ensured running water, latrines, and showers outfitted the post within 30 days.
Patton’s quick thinking and bold, unconventional approach to solving the military problems only showcased his capability as a leader, and it was no doubt impressive and commendable.