A brief overview of the origins and history of wedding registries in the United States guiding from the trials of the Great Depression to the introduction of online wedding registries in the digital age.

A Product of Macy’s

In 1924 Marshall Field’s, now called Macy’s, created the first widely used wedding registry.  There is speculation, though largely undocumented, that simple wedding gift registries were created as early as 1901, but Marshall Field’s is credited with popularizing the tradition to mass markets.  Quickly after the first registry, other large stores selling common wedding gift merchandise such as china and silver hopped on the marketing ploy to monopolize the gift-giving at American weddings.


Great Depression of Nuptials

In the 1930s the United States was crippled by a stock market crash and the Dust Bowl creating the Great Depression.  Home ownership dropped down to 40% during the Depression and, with that, marriage rates dropped dramatically.  During the ‘30s weddings decreased from about 11 weddings per 1000 people, to only 7 per 1000 people per year (a difference of 500,000 weddings per year); a 36% decrease.  The obvious impact of this to the wedding registry industry is fewer weddings equals fewer sales, not to mention the gross decrease in overall sales due to a struggling economy during this time.


A War of Love

World War II devastated the world in violence and destruction, but it also encouraged a generation of marriages in a matter of five years.  At the start of the war couples would hurriedly marry prior to deployment as one lasting romantic sentiment to give both parties motivation to push through the difficult years.  Following the end of the war was an even larger spike in marriages as a generation of young men and women were reunited and hopeful for a peaceful future that included a spouse, children, home, and, wait for it, stuff to put in that new home.


Age of Youth

Thanks to the end of World War II and the flux of weddings the average age for marriage reached a century-low and stayed there for 26 years.  From 1949 to 1975 the average age for men getting married was 22.9 years old, and for women it was 20.5 years old.  This is an important statistic in the wedding registry industry because these very young couples were starting a home together upon marriage which means they were sorely in need of kitchen appliances, linens, dishes, silverware, etc.  The solution: start a wedding registry.


Unequal Evolution

During the 26 years of historically young newlyweds building their homes out of the pockets of wedding guests the wedding registry industry flourished.  Coincidentally, at the end of that quarter century the barcode was invented in 1974.  This simple coding would change shopping in the U.S. forever.  After popularity in the new practice gained critical mass department stores, including the once Marshall Field’s (Macy’s), developed a new and efficient system for engaged couples to add wanted wares to their registries.  The system simplified the shopping, purchasing, and tracking of products regarding registries.  However, as technology evolved to make purchasing products easier, the average age for wedding couples grew to the upper 20s by the turn of the century, supplying the industry with young professionals who already established homes (furnishings and all) independent of a spouse.  The products that were now so much easier to add to registries and purchase remained the same type of products from the 1950s: appliances, silverware, china.


A Revolution in Giving

Tradition has been formed that wedding guests are to bring a gift for the lucky couple on their day of exchanging vows.  Culture has also dictated that the guests are to utilize the registry/registries of which the couple has selected to shop from.  While some couples opt to upgrade household items via wedding registry, many others have sought solutions to the needs/wants dilemma.  Various online registries have spawned due to this demand, encouraging guests to give gifts that build and support the marriage rather than simply accruing stuff.  VEBO is an experience-based wedding registry which allows couples to create a list of activities to partake in the first few years of marriage.  Gifts include options such as whitewater rafting, skydiving, and winery tours and tastings.


The evolution of wedding registries of their 100-year history has been slow, but thanks to online wedding registries such as VEBO, long strides have been made to please a generation of evolved newlyweds.