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Altman, Benjamin (12 July 1840–07 October 1913), merchant and art collector, was born in New York, New York, the son of Philip Altman, a dry goods merchant, and Cecilia (maiden name unknown). His father, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who had come to the United States in 1835, operated a small dry goods store named Altman & Co. on Third Avenue near Tenth Street. Young Altman worked with his brother Morris in his father’s shop in the afternoons. He left school at the age of twelve to work there full time and later held a variety of sales jobs with other dry goods shops in New York City and in Newark, New Jersey. When his father died in 1854, Altman and his brother took over the store, changing its name to Altman Bros. The business prospered, and by 1865 they moved to Third Avenue and Tenth Street; they moved again to a larger building on Sixth Avenue between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets in 1870. Morris left the business but remained a partner, and when he died in 1876, Altman became sole owner, later changing the name of the firm to B. Altman & Co....

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Avery, Sewell Lee (04 November 1874–31 October 1960), business executive, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, the son of Waldo Allard Avery, a prosperous lumberman, and Ellen Lee. He attended Michigan Military Academy and the University of Michigan Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1894. After graduation he worked as manager of the Western Plaster Works plant in Alabaster, Michigan, a position he secured through his father, who was part owner of the plant. In 1899 he married Hortense Lenore Wisner, with whom he had four children....

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Bamberger, Louis (15 May 1855–11 March 1944), merchant and philanthropist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Elkan Bamberger, a wholesale notions merchant, and Theresa Hutzler. Bamberger attended public school in Baltimore until he quit at fourteen to become a $4-a-week clerk and errand boy in his uncles’ dry-goods store, Hutzler Brothers. After two years he joined his brother Julius to work for their father, buying E. Bamberger & Company when their father retired in the mid-1870s. Leaving the position as business manager, Louis Bamberger relocated to New York City in 1887 to accumulate capital for his own retail business while working as a buyer for West Coast wholesalers....

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Bancroft, Hubert Howe (05 May 1832–02 March 1918), businessman and historian, was born in Granville, Ohio, the son of Azariah Ashley Bancroft, a farmer, and Lucy Howe, a teacher. His formal education stopped short of college, and at age sixteen Bancroft left home to learn the book trade from his brother-in-law in Buffalo, New York. Sent to California with a valuable consignment of books, Bancroft opened his own bookstore in San Francisco in December 1856, with capital supplied by his sister and credit from several New York firms. Efficiently run, and favored by a margin between California gold and depreciated eastern currency during the Civil War, Bancroft’s store proved phenomenally profitable. Within a decade, H. H. Bancroft & Co. supported extensive European travel for its proprietor and permitted him the luxury of semiretirement at age thirty-seven. In 1869–1870 he built a five-story building for his business, which expanded to include stationery, office supplies, printing, and bookbinding. He turned over the day-to-day operations to his younger brother, Albert, while he moved into the fifth floor and devoted himself to the study of history....

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Bauer, Eddie (19 October 1899–18 April 1986), sporting goods retailer, was born on Orcas Island, Washington, the son of Jacob Bauer, a gardener-caretaker, and Marie Uhrich. Bauer spent his first years on a sparsely inhabited island, and his earliest memories centered on the hunting and fishing that supported the islanders. His parents relocated to the Seattle area when Bauer was three, and hunting and fishing became his favorite pastimes. He held various odd jobs while a boy, often at a country club where his father was caretaker. From club members and also from local Native Americans, Bauer learned techniques of marksmanship, sportfishing, and trapping that enhanced his hunting and fishing skills....

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Beach, Sylvia Woodbridge (14 March 1887–06 October 1962), bookstore owner and publisher, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the second of three daughters of Sylvester Woodbridge Beach, a Presbyterian minister, and Eleanor Orbison, an artist. Disinclined toward both religion and formal education, she often pleaded illness and eventually fled the Presbyterian parsonage of Princeton, New Jersey, for Europe. Beach spent 1907–1908 and 1911–1912 in Florence, 1914–1916 in Spain, and in midsummer of 1916 settled in Paris, where her father had served as associate pastor at the American Church from 1902 to 1905. Paris would remain her home until her death there forty-six years later....

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Bean, L. L. (13 October 1872–05 February 1967), retail merchant, was born Leon Leonwood Bean in Greenwood, Maine, the son of Benjamin Warren Bean and Sarah Swett, farmers. Orphaned at age twelve, he lived with his brother and four sisters in South Paris, Maine, and briefly attended Kent Hill Academy and Hebron Academy. Lennie Bean worked in his brother’s retail store in Freeport and in an Auburn clothing store from 1892 to 1907. In 1898 Bean married Bertha Porter, and they had two sons and a daughter. After his wife died in 1939, he married Claire L. Boudreau in 1940. Achieving little success in various business ventures, from selling soap to working in a creamery, in 1907 Bean moved to his wife’s hometown, Freeport, Maine, to take over his brother Ervin’s retail store....

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Bell, James Ford (16 August 1879–07 May 1961), corporate executive, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of James Stroud Bell, a miller, and Sallie Montgomery Ford. His family relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1888, and Bell received his early education in the public schools there. After preparing for college at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, he entered the University of Minnesota. Bell graduated with a B.S. in chemistry in 1901 and immediately joined his father’s firm, the Washburn Crosby Company. Initially employed as a salesman in Michigan, he soon became fully acquainted with all facets of the firm’s operations. He married Louise Heffelfinger of Minneapolis in 1902; the couple had four children....

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Birdseye, Clarence (09 December 1886–07 October 1956), inventor and entrepreneur, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Clarence Frank Birdseye, an attorney and legal scholar, and Ada Underwood. When Birdseye was in his teens, his family moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where he completed his high school education. Interested in both food and natural history from an early age, he signed up for a cooking course in high school and trained himself to be a more than competent taxidermist, attempting for a time to earn some income by training others in that skill. Birdseye attended Amherst College on a sporadic basis between 1908 and 1910, but he left before graduating because of financial problems. In an attempt to pay his college bills, he had collected frogs to sell to the Bronx Zoo for feeding their snake population and caught rats in a butcher shop for a Columbia University faculty member who was conducting breeding experiments. Following his departure from Amherst in 1910, he worked as an office boy for an insurance agency in New York, and then briefly as a snow checker for the city’s street cleaning department....

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Charles W. Carey Jr.

Blake, Lyman Reed (24 August 1835–05 October 1883), inventor, was born in South Abington, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Blake and Susannah Bates. In 1851, having completed his formal education at age sixteen, he went to work for his older brother Samuel, a “shoe boss.” After the employees in his brother’s shop cut out from leather the various pieces that comprise a shoe, the younger Blake put out these pieces to self-employed shoebinders—who hand-stitched together the uppers and then pegged or nailed the uppers to a sole—and collected the finished pairs, which his brother then sold....

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Paul Bonwit. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Bonwit, Paul J. (29 September 1862–11 December 1939), retail merchant, was born Paul Joseph (or Josef) Bonwit near Hanover, Germany, the son of Bernard Bonwit. His father's occupation and mother's name are unknown. He attended the local Gymnasium before moving to Paris at age sixteen, where he found work with a local export house as a clerk while continuing his academic studies at night. In 1883 Bonwit came to the United States. After a brief stay in New York City, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he worked in a department store. By now determined to enter the retail business world, he returned to New York and became affiliated with Rothschild & Company. Bonwit eventually became a partner in the firm, which was renamed Bonwit, Rothschild & Company. He married Sarah Woolf in 1893. The couple had two sons....

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Borden, Gail (09 November 1801–11 January 1874), surveyor and inventor, was born in Norwich, New York, the son of Gail Borden, a pioneer and landowner, and Philadelphia Wheeler. The Bordens moved at least twice in the early 1800s, first to Kennedy’s Ferry, Kentucky, which became Covington soon after their arrival, and then to New London, Indiana, in 1816, where Borden learned surveying. Borden attended school in Indiana during 1816 and 1817....

Article

Douglas Pike and Lisabeth G. Svendsgaard

Bunker, Ellsworth (11 May 1894–27 September 1984), businessman and diplomat, was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of George R. Bunker, a founder of the National Sugar Refining Company, and Jean Polhemus Cobb. Bunker was educated in private schools in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and attended Yale University, where he majored in history and economics. After graduating in 1916, he entered the family business as a dockworker. In 1920 he married Harriet Allen Butler, with whom he was to have three children. Bunker advanced quickly in the National Sugar Refining Company and was named a director of the company in 1927. He went on to become secretary, treasurer, president, and chairman of the board, retiring in 1950. He remained a member of the board of directors until 1966....

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Burpee, David (05 April 1893–24 June 1980), businessman and horticulturist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of W. Atlee Burpee, the founder of the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company, and Blanche Simons. His father founded the company in Philadelphia in 1878 as a catalog and mail-order retailer of poultry and livestock. The company met with success when it shifted its emphasis from animals and fowl to seeds. Burpee’s father actively encouraged his sons to follow him in the seed business. When his father became ill with a liver ailment, Burpee ended his studies in agriculture at Cornell University and served as his assistant until the elder Burpee’s death in 1915....

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Carnegie, Hattie (15 March 1886–22 February 1956), fashion designer and merchandiser, was born Henrietta Könengeiser in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Isaac Könengeiser and Hannah Kraenzer. The family emigrated to the United States, settling on New York’s Lower East Side in 1892. Hattie’s first job was as a messenger at R. H. Macy’s, where she encountered the heady new world of modern retailing and the lifestyle of affluent New York. That experience may have inspired her to assume the name Carnegie; ...

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Hattie Carnegie. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92431).

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Chester, Colby Mitchell, Jr. (23 July 1877–26 September 1965), lawyer and business executive, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Colby Mitchell Chester, a lieutenant commander (later a rear admiral) in the U.S. Navy, and Melancia Antoinette Tremaine. He attended Yale University, where he was awarded a Ph.B. from the Sheffield Scientific School in 1897 and a B.A. in 1898. Chester then enrolled at New York Law School, where he received an LL.B. in 1900. That same year he was admitted to the New York bar but delayed the practice of law to join his father, then commander of the battleship USS ...

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Clark, Catherine Taft (31 December 1906–02 May 1986), business executive, was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin, the daughter of Warren G. Taft, a machinist, and Louise West. Taft attended public schools in Whitewater, but as her father died when she was a child, she was unable to attend college. Instead, at nineteen she took a job as secretary to the local college president, where she claimed to learn as much as a formally enrolled student. From there, Milwaukee was her next stop; she worked at Schuster’s, a major department store, where she gained experience in retailing and marketing....

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Copley, Ira Clifton (25 October 1864–02 November 1947), newspaper publisher, congressman, public utilities executive, and philanthropist, was born in Copley Township, Knox County, Illinois, the son of Ira Birdsall Copley and Ellen Madeline Whiting, farmers. When Copley was two he was struck with scarlet fever, which left him blind. When he was three, the family moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he received treatment for his eyes. Even with the care of an eye specialist, his complete blindness lasted five years. With the move to Aurora, his father and his mother’s brother assumed ownership of the Aurora Illinois Gas Light Company, the beginning of a large utility company that Ira would one day manage....