Edgar Kaufmann Sr.

Edgar Kaufmann, jr.

Liliane S. Kaufmann

Wright's Patrons and Friends

Kaufmann's Department Store

Edgar Kaufmann Sr. 1885-1955

I always feel that I am a better man after having spent hours with you and regret that our paths cross so seldom.

- Edgar Kaufmann Sr. to Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939

Born in 1885, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. attended Pittsburgh’s Shady Side Academy and spent a year at Yale University before beginning his apprenticeship in the field of retailing. His training took him to Marshall Field’s in Chicago, Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris, the Karsstadt in Hamburg, Germany – and to a general store in nearby Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He served as a first lieutenant in World War I.

By 1913, Edgar, at age 28, was effectively running Kaufmann’s Department Store, and reportedly tripled the store’s net sales from $10 million in 1913 to $30 million in 1920. Always looking for new ways to stimulate sales, Edgar Kaufmann led a consortium of local department store merchants and representatives from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Pittsburgh in founding the Research Bureau for Retail Training in 1918. He chaired the program’s executive committee from 1929-1953, and in 1943 he received an honorary doctor of science from the University of Pittsburgh in recognition of his contributions. During World War II, he served as a consultant to the Office of Price Administration and campaigned for war bond sales.

Edgar Kaufmann Sr.’s passion was physical planning. During the Depression he was active in New Deal public works programs for Pittsburgh. His interest in Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas for these projects eventually led him to commission several projects for Pittsburgh from the architect. Kaufmann was a board member of the Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association, and a charter member of the influential Allegheny Conference on Community Development, founded in 1944, which spearheaded joint planning by the private and public sectors on issues such as flood control, air quality, and infrastructure. In 1946, the governor of Pennsylvania appointed him to the newly formed Urban Redevelopment Authority, empowered to implement improvements. Kaufmann’s participation in these organizations was a matter of good business as well as personal interest, recognizing the importance a vital downtown business district had for the future of his store.

Even today, Pittsburghers remember Edgar Kaufmann as a most charismatic man, fond of social life, genuinely interested in the lives of his employees. Handsome, fit, he possessed a captivating gaze and a rakish scar acquired during a fencing bout in Heidelberg. A profile in Fortune magazine noted his exceptionally well-modulated voice, the power and beauty of his hands, and the elegance of his gestures. A philanthropist and patron of the arts, he also loved the outdoors, and especially enjoyed horseback riding, fishing, and hiking. His death on April 15, 1955 was headline news in Pittsburgh. The city mourned the loss of its "merchant prince," and Frank Lloyd Wright mourned him as a patron and friend of more than twenty years.

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