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Spiegel's founder, the German-born, Forty-Eighters financier and Jewish son of a Rabbi  Joseph Spiegel, immigrated at age 8, started a home furnishings company in Chicago in April 1865, just after the end of the Civil War. Spiegel eventually became one of the most important firms in the mail-order industry, and arguably the first. In 1904, Joseph and his son, Arthur, switched to mail order. Spiegel mailed its first catalog in 1905. By 1925, it had 10 million customers. Before the Great Depression began, Spiegel (which then sold women's' clothing as well as furniture) was selling over $20 million yearly through the mail. A strategy of generous consumer credit, low prices, and high volume allowed Spiegel to accomplish the remarkable feat of expanding its operations during the Great Depression.
In 1982, Spiegel was bought by Michael Otto, who took it public in 1987. In 1988, Spiegel Inc. bought Honeybee Inc., a New York women's apparel chain. Spiegel closed the 17-store retail division of its Honeybee subsidiary in February 1992. In March 2003, Spiegel Inc. filed for reorganization under the bankruptcy code. The next year, the Spiegel and Newport News catalog businesses were sold to a group headed by Golden Gate Capital Partners and Pangea Holdings Ltd., while the reorganizing company retained its Eddie Bauer unit and eventually assumed its name. Since 2004, Spiegel and the women's fashion catalog Newport News have operated under the name Spiegel Brands, Inc. In 2008 Spiegel was sold to an investment group led by Granite Creek Partners. In June 2009, Spiegel became a Lynn Tilton company when it was sold to the private equity fund Patriarch Partners, LLC.
Spiegel once operated freestanding department stores. Prizes from the Spiegel catalog were featured on many television game shows in the 1970s, and the tagline "Spiegel, Chicago 60609" (the company's ZIP code) was well known.