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The Family

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.

Edgar Kaufmann, jr.

Taking care of Fallingwater was a challenge, enjoying it was the reward. Seasons and years rolled on; I continued to rely on the rhythm, peace, and stimulus of weekends on Bear Run. Fallingwater revealed the profundity of Wright’s art more and more the longer I lived with it. How easy to take these luxuries of body and spirit for granted, as inalienable privileges."

- Edgar Kaufmann, jr., in Fallingwater 1910-1989"

Following his father’s footsteps, Edgar jr. attended Shady Side Academy until his keen interest in art prompted him to study painting in Europe with a family friend, Victor Hammer. Edgar jr. remained in Europe until 1934, when he returned to the United States with plans to settle in New York City and paint.

That summer, however, his life took an unplanned turn. After having read Frank Lloyd Wright’s An Autobiography (1932) on the advice of a friend, he was inspired to join the Taliesin Fellowship, which Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, had recently founded as an institute for artistic growth. In September, Edgar jr. traveled to Wisconsin for an interview with Wright, and a month later he was officially inscribed as a member of the fellowship. His stay at Taliesin only lasted six months, however, and he returned to Pittsburgh in 1935 to take his long deferred place in the family store, where he eventually became merchandise manager for the Home Department. Over the next seven years, he played a pivotal role in integrating the family’s interest in progressive design, in Wright’s work, and business.

In 1937, Edgar Kaufmann jr. began an 18-year association with the Museum of Modern Art after John McAndrew, its curator of architecture and industrial art, visited Fallingwater. The next year, the museum exhibited photographs of the house. In 1940, Edgar jr. and his mother presented an exhibition of Mexican antiques and folk art, entitled "Below the Rio Grande." The following year, Edgar jr. brought the Museum of Modern Art’s traveling exhibition "Organic Design" to the department store. He had played a central role in organizing the exhibit, and the experience led him away from a career in retailing to his life’s work as a curator and scholar.

In 1940, Edgar jr. also became associated with the Museum of Modern Art as Curator in the Department of Industrial Design. Upon his 1946 return from service in World War II, he became Director of the Industrial Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art. He held this position until 1948, when his department was merged with the Department of Architecture under the direction of Philip Johnson. Now a Research Associate and Consultant in Industrial Design, he remained with the museum until 1955, pursuing the campaign he had begun before the war to promote contemporary furniture design among manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. He organized the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design in 1948, but his greatest accomplishment was the Good Design program of 1950-55, in which the museum joined forces with the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, promoting good design in household objects and furnishings.

After his father’s death in 1955, Edgar Kaufmann jr. inherited Fallingwater, and continued to use it as a mountain retreat until 1963. Then, following his father’s wishes, he entrusted it and several hundred acres of land to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy as a conservation in memory of his parents. He guided the organization’s thinking about the administration and programming of Fallingwater, and was a frequent visitor after tours began in 1964.

Edgar Kaufmann jr. was a lecturer and authority on Frank Lloyd Wright. He was an Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Art History at Columbia University from 1963 – 1986. He authored several books on Wright, architecture, and modern design, and was a contributor to Encyclopedia Brittanica. He died on July 31, 1989.

Edgar jr. passionately believed that good design was an essential part of everyday life, and that objects of the highest standards of quality and design should be available to everyone, at affordable prices. Because of his experience and connections, he bridged the gap between the commercial market and the design world. His influential exhibitions probably changed the course of the design and manufacture of everyday objects in this country. Nine of the Good Design shows were seen by thousands of Americans in venues such as banks, Elks Lodges, art societies, and department stores such as Kaufmann’s. In addition, his booklets What is Modern Design? (1950) and What is Modern Interior Design? (1953) were widely read and respected.

Liliane S. Kaufmann 1889-1952

"Living in a house built by you has been my one education - and for that and for the privilege of knowing you, I will always be grateful."

- Liliane Kaufmann to Frank Lloyd Wright

Lillian was born in Pittsburgh and led a sheltered childhood in the neighborhood of prosperous Jewish families in Pittsburgh’s Manchester district, which was home to the extended Kaufmann family. She made full use of her sharp mind, her gift for foreign languages, and her innate sense of style. (She later changed her name to the more elegant Liliane). She married Edgar J. Kaufmann in 1909, and they formed a striking couple. Former Kaufmann’s Department Store employees recall that all eyes immediately turned to Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann when they entered the store for a day’s work.

Liliane was a superb hostess who could deftly orchestrate food, setting, and conversation. As Jews, they encountered boundaries that limited the scope of their ambitions in Pittsburgh society, but they maintained an ever-growing circle of creative people as friends – a circle which eventually included Frank Lloyd Wright. Their homes reflected their cosmopolitan outlook and frequent travels. They collected paintings and objets d’art, and their taste embraced everything from folk crafts to contemporary design. These interests were shared by their only child, Edgar Kaufmann jr.

In 1933, Liliane took control of the store’s unprofitable 11th floor and established the Vendome Shops, named for the elegant Place Vendome in Paris – the address of the Ritz Hotel where she stayed on her buying trips to Paris, and of the many boutiques in which she shopped for jewelry and apparel.

Liliane was devoted to public health causes. Her work at Montefiore and Mercy Hospitals ranged from making policy in the boardroom to wrapping bandages in the emergency room. In 1934, she was elected President of Montefiore Hospital – the first and only female to head the Board of Trustees – and she served in this capacity for nine years. She was a longtime activist in the hospital as well as a major financial backer.

In 1942, she trained for the Red Cross Nurse’s Aid Corps at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C. After completing the course she undertook the fulltime job at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh of helping regular nurses in the emergency department. She volunteered for 10 years at Mercy, serving on several committees as well as representing the hospital at Pittsburgh’s Council of Medical Social Service.

An avid outdoors person herself, Liliane enjoyed hiking, horseback riding, and reportedly, fly fishing. She raised long-haired Dachshunds as show dogs. Liliane died on September 7, 1952; the next year, Montefiore Hospital dedicated its new student nurses’ school and residence in her memory.

While her husband relished the challenge of building Fallingwater, it was Liliane’s sensibilities and attention to detail which brought elegance to a mountain retreat. Visiting Fallingwater today, you still see those details – especially in the floral arrangements: a loose gathering of one type of flower, casually placed in a simple but well-designed vase.

Wright’s Patrons and Friends

The Kaufmann family were patrons and personal friends of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, who supported his work for twenty-five years through architectural commissions, gifts, and legal assistance. Of the roughly one dozen projects the family commissioned from Wright from 1934 to his death, only three - Fallingwater, its guest house, and Edgar Kaufmann’s private office in the department store - were realized. In addition, Edgar Kaufmann Senior supported the creation of Wright’s Broadacre City model, which toured the United States in the 1930’s.

The Kaufmann office can be seen today in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the store it occupied the northwest corner of the tenth floor adjacent to a conference room lined with sixteenth-century German paneling. Wright planned the room using a 4-foot square module, and the major elements, such as the 8-foot ceiling height and the two-foot high cabinet doors, correspond to the full or the half module. Edgar Kaufmann’s desk and the plywood relief mural above it were the focal point of the room.

The office was constructed of carefully matched grains of cypress veneer by a Nicaraguan-born cabinetmaker, Manuel J. Sandoval, who had worked for several years with the Taliesin fellowship. Loja Saarinen, the wife of architect Eliel Saarinen, wove the fabrics for the carpets and upholstery. The office was substantially complete in January 1938.

As the Kaufmanns’ interests and needs evolved at Bear Run, they turned to Wright for other buildings. They asked him to design two projects for gate lodges, a farm cottage, and a private, non-denominational chapel. They also commissioned several schemes for additions to the main house and guest houses. For various reasons, none of these was realized.

Throughout the Kaufmanns’ long association with Wright, they sought opportunities to secure public commissions for him in Pittsburgh. Some were related to the store - for example, a planetarium, and later a parking garage on the same property. Edgar Kaufmann also asked Wright’s assistance in addressing broader urban design issues in Pittsburgh. Wright eventually prepared two grand schemes for a civic center at Pittsburgh’s Point, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. He also produced two designs for an apartment building on Mt. Washington, a promontory overlooking downtown Pittsburgh. Again, none of these was realized.

In 1946, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. commissioned modern architect Richard Neutra to design a house in Palm Springs, California. When Wright learned of Kaufmann’s infidelity, he angrily broke off their friendship. With Edgar jr.’s tactful intercession, however, the rift was mended, and the family assisted Wright in the formation of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. In the early 1950’s, the family commissioned Wright to design another house in Palm Springs for them. Named Boulder House, this commission, more than any of Wright’s other work for the family, was intended for Liliane Kaufmann. Her death the following year put an end to the project.

Kaufmann’s Department Store

Kaufmann’s Department store began as a men’s store in 1871, located in downtown Pittsburgh where the flagship store remains today. By the 1910’s, the store had gained broad appeal to Pittsburghers of varied economic classes and ethnic backgrounds. Competitive prices and wide selection were the primary attractions. A popular anecdote recounted how even the famously rotund William Henry Taft was able to find trousers in his size at Kaufmann’s.

By 1913, Edgar Kaufmann Sr. had gained the majority of the shares in the business, and was effectively running it. Making the most of Pittsburgh’s robust economy during World War I, he tripled the store’s net sales to $30 million by 1920. He became President in 1919.

To continue this remarkable growth, Kaufmann’s created marketing strategies intended to stimulate desire for new products, create tempting opportunities for impulse purchases, and above all – make the sale. Education became increasingly important for manager s and sales personnel alike. In 1918, 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. 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.

An innovative series of special program from the 1920’s into the early 1950’s identified the store with technological and scientific progress. In 1928, for example, a year after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, Kaufmann’s staged an aircraft exhibit that attracted 50,000 visitors in one week. In 1935, inspired perhaps by the recent Century of Progress exhibition in Chicago, the store inaugurated an annual "Peaks of Progress" festival that included exhibitions, lectures, and essay contests.

Image was as important then as now, and in 1925, Kaufmann placed the responsibility for a major remodeling of the store in the hands of his longtime architect, Benno Janssen, who had enlarged the store in 1913 and designed the Kaufmanns’ Fox Chapel home.
The result, completed in April 1930, was dramatic and set the store apart from all others in Pittsburgh . The walls, elevators, and interior columns had facings of black reflective marble and Carrera glass, a new product of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Lighting fixtures were contained within glass moldings that began at the top of each column and traced the beams supporting the ceiling.

Underneath this grid stood white mahogany display cases, which had their own hidden lighting sources. Seeming to float on the walls above the merchandise were ten large murals, each measuring approximately 7 ft high by 14 ft wide, depicting the History of Commerce by Boardman Robinson (1876-1952). The Kaufmann commission provided Robinson with his first opportunity to put his ideas into practice and would be the first of a series of ambitious murals realized in the 1930’s by artists such as Benton, Jose Clementa Orozco, and Diego Rivera.

Robinson’s murals and Janssen’s interior finishes created an elegant environment for the store’s customers, whose well being was enhanced by technical systems that were as sophisticated as the decoration was chic. Among these was the introduction of air conditioning, improved vertical circulation provided by three sets of escalators an sixteen passenger elevators, and the state-of-the-art electrical wiring that included provisions for the emerging technology of television, which Edgar Kaufmann must have felt would soon be an integral part of retailing.

In 1933, Liliane Kaufmann took control of the store’s unprofitable 11th floor and established the Vendome Shops. With the Vendome shops, she sought to offer sophisticated customers a similarly interesting and tasteful selection of quality goods, including designed dresses, furnishings, bedding and gifts. In setting the tone for the house wares and furniture departments, Liliane stressed quality, rather than stylistic homogeneity, and forms and antiques, high-style design and folk crafts.

By the 1930’s the Kaufmanns were actively using the department store as a way to promote modern design. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City model, funded in part by Edgar Kaufmann Sr., was displayed at the store in 1935. In 1938, Kaufmann’s joined other department stores in a campaign sponsored by Life Magazine intended to create model modern houses in all price ranges. In 1940, Edgar jr. and his mother presented an exhibition of Mexican antiques and folk art, entitled "Below the Rio Grande." The following year, Edgar jr. brought the Museum of Modern Art’s traveling exhibition "Organic Design" to the department store.

On its 75th anniversary in 1946, Kaufmann’s merged with the May Department Stores of St. Louis. Edgar Kaufmann remained as president of Kaufmann’s, and became a vice president of the May Company. The merger made May Co. the second largest purchaser in merchandising history.


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