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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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Albert C. Barnes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 102 P&P).

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Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...

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Gilcrease, Thomas (08 February 1890–06 May 1962), oilman and art collector, was born William Thomas Gilcrease in Robeline, Louisiana, the son of William Lee Gilcrease and Mary Elizabeth Vowell, farmers. When Tom was an infant, the family moved to Indian Territory where his mother, who was one-quarter Creek, was entitled to live. As the eldest of fourteen children, Gilcrease grew up working on the family farm and attending school only sporadically. In 1896, when the federal government ordered the Five Civilized Tribes to compile membership rolls in preparation for an allotment of land, Gilcrease became an official member of the Creek tribe by virtue of his one-eighth blood heritage. In 1899 he was awarded his 160-acre plot of land. It proved an immensely lucky piece of property. Located twenty miles south of Tulsa, the land was in the middle of the Glenn Pool, one of the most profitable oil fields in Oklahoma....

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Solomon R. Guggenheim With one of his daughters on the deck of the Aquitania. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75062).

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Guggenheim, Solomon Robert (02 February 1861–03 November 1949), industrialist, art collector, and museum founder, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Meyer Guggenheim, businessman, and Barbara Meyer, Swiss immigrants who had accompanied their parents to Philadelphia in 1847 to escape restrictions on Jews in their native land. By the time of Solomon’s birth, the family had prospered, its good fortune hastened by Meyer’s shrewdness in providing clothing and food supplies for the Union Army during the Civil War. After attending public school in Philadelphia, Solomon was sent to the Concordia Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, to polish his German and study business techniques. Together with his brothers Isaac, Daniel, and Murry, he became a partner in M. Guggenheim’s Sons, the family lace and embroideries manufacturing and importing company (1877; incorp. 1882), and remained in Europe as manager of a branch of the family business in Saxony. The four brothers became the masterminds behind the Guggenheim empire....

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Havemeyer, Henry Osborne (18 October 1847–04 December 1907), sugar merchant and investor, was born in New York City, the son of Frederick Christian Havemeyer, Jr., a sugar merchant, and Sarah Osborne Townsend Havemeyer. From childhood on he was known as Harry. By the time of his birth the extended Havemeyer family, whose antecedents, originally from Germany, had emigrated from England in the late eighteenth century, was one of New York's wealthiest and most prominent, making their fortune in sugar refining. A substantial part of that fortune had been made by Harry's father, in partnership with his cousin ...

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Juilliard, Augustus D. (19 April 1836–25 April 1919), industrialist and patron of the arts, was born at sea during the voyage that brought his parents, Jean Nicholas Juilliard, a farmer, and Anna Burlette, to the United States from Burgundy, France. Although he had been a shoemaker in France, Augustus’s father believed that farming offered greater potential for success in America. He and his family settled near Canton, Ohio. Following Juilliard’s schooling he worked in his brother-in-law’s dry goods store in Bucyrus, Ohio. After making a number of buying trips to New York he decided to settle there. He eventually was employed by one of the leading textile commission houses, Hoyt, Spragues & Company. In 1873, when Hoyt, Spragues declared bankruptcy, Juilliard was appointed receiver. Sometime thereafter he formed his own successful textile commission house, A. D. Juilliard and Company, where he served as senior partner....

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Kaufmann, Edgar Jonas, Sr. (01 November 1885–14 April 1955), retailer and patron of architecture, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Morris Kaufmann, a merchant, and Betty Wolf. Kaufmann’s grandfather was a horse trader in the Rhineland town of Viernheim, Germany. Two of his uncles left Germany in 1868 for Pittsburgh, where they were first peddlers and then tailors. In 1872 the two brothers were joined by Kaufmann’s father and another uncle. In 1877 the four Kaufmann brothers opened a department store in downtown Pittsburgh, doors away from the cast-iron Mellon Bank. In 1905 Edgar Kaufmann attended the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, after which he spent two years as an apprentice at the Marshall Field store in Chicago, at Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and at the Karstadt store in Hamburg. He returned from Europe in 1908, and by 1913 he held or controlled a majority interest in the family store. In 1909 he married his cousin Lilianne Kaufmann; they had one child....

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Moody, Harriet Converse (18 March 1857–22 February 1932), entrepreneur and patron of the arts, was born in Parkman, Ohio, the daughter of William Mason Tilden, a livestock broker, and Harriet Converse. William Tilden moved his family to Chicago circa 1867. Educated at home by her mother, Harriet later attended the Howland School, a Quaker institution in Union Springs, New York. She continued her education at Cornell University, where she earned a degree in English literature in 1876. Enrolling at the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, she returned to Chicago after one year, made her debut, and married Edwin Brainard, a lawyer. The marriage was not a success, and the Brainards were divorced in the 1880s....

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Post, Marjorie Merriweather (15 March 1887–12 September 1973), business owner, entertainer, and philanthropist, was born in Springfield, Illinois, the daughter of Charles William Post, founder of Postum Cereal Company, and Ella Letitia Merriweather. After several of Charles Post’s entrepreneurial ventures failed, his family entered him in a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1891. The sanitarium’s doctor, ...

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Reed, Luman (04 June 1785–07 June 1836), merchant, art collector, and art patron, was born at Green River (now Austerlitz), in Columbia County, New York, the son of Eliakim Reed II and Rebecca Fitch, farmers. The family lived in Connecticut until Reed’s father bought a New York farm in 1779. In 1792 they moved to nearby Coxsackie, where Reed attended a district school. There, in partnership with his cousin Roswell Reed, his father opened a store for the sale of agricultural produce and dry goods, in which Luman Reed worked after school; when his father sold the business, Reed worked for the new owner, Ralph Barker. In 1808 Reed married Barker’s sister Mary (known as Polly); the couple had two children....

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Rose, Billy (06 September 1899–10 February 1966), songwriter, show business impresario, and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of David Rosenberg, a button salesman, and Fannie Wernick. He was born William Samuel Rosenberg, according to most biographical sources, though one source states he adopted that name in school after being born Samuel Wolf Rosenberg. He grew up in the Bronx and attended public schools there, winning junior high school medals for sprinting and English. Medals and honors were important as proofs of stature and worth to Rose, who never grew taller than five feet three inches. In the High School of Commerce, he became an outstanding student of the Gregg system of shorthand, winning first a citywide competition (1917) and then a national competition (1918). In 1918 he left high school shortly before graduation to become head of the stenographic department of the War Industries Board, headed by ...

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Walker, A'Lelia (06 June 1885–17 August 1931), arts patron and cosmetics industry executive, was born Lelia McWilliams in Delta, Louisiana, the only child of the Sarah Breedlove, who would become the hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C. J. Walker, and Moses McWilliams, a sharecropper. In 1888, while still a toddler, she moved with her widowed mother from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to St. Louis, Missouri, where three of her maternal uncles operated a barbershop. At nearby St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, women parishioners reached out, caring for Lelia in the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home while Sarah worked during the week as a washerwoman. As a choir member, Sarah was exposed to educated, middle-class women—many of whom were members of the National Association of Colored Women—and began to aspire to a better life for herself and her daughter. Sarah’s marriage to an abusive alcoholic named John Davis during Lelia’s adolescence created instability and frequently disrupted her school attendance. In 1901, when Lelia was sixteen years old, her mother left Davis and sent her to Knoxville College in Tennessee, where she remained for less than a year. As an adult, she changed her name to A’Lelia....