William W. (Bill) Grainger founded a wholesale electric motor sales and distribution business in Chicago in 1927. He established the company to provide an efficient solution for customers to access a consistent supply of motors.
The business was incorporated as W. W. Grainger, Inc. in 1928. Sales in the early days were generated primarily through mail order via post cards and a catalog. The MotorBook, as the catalog was originally called, was the basis for today's Grainger catalog. To improve customer service, Bill Grainger opened a branch in Philadelphia in 1933, and then three additional branches the following year. By 1936, there were 15 branches in operation. It was evident that local branch service would be an integral part of the company's future growth.
In 1967, Grainger became a public company, and its stock was traded in the over-the-counter market. Today, Grainger stock is sold under the GWW symbol on the New York and Chicago stock exchanges.
To remain the leader in the industry, Grainger seized technology opportunities early. In 1976, Grainger became the first in the industry to implement optical character recognition equipment. Grainger continued to advance its systems throughout the 1980s by installing a national satellite-based digital communication network. In 1991, Grainger introduced the first comprehensive electronic MRO catalog on CD-ROM. Grainger launched the corporate Web site in 1995 and began taking orders online in 1996. In 2012, Grainger posted $2.7 billion in eCommerce sales, representing 30 percent of total company sales and an increase of 23 percent versus the prior year.
Over the years, Grainger's product line has expanded to more than 1 million products and repair parts. The Grainger branch network has grown steadily, and today there are more than 700 Grainger branches, making the company North America’s leading broad-line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products, with expanding global operations. The famous Grainger catalog is published annually, and is available online at Grainger.com and through its mobile app.