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May 16: Gimbel’s

May 15, 2016

394_1423012373Adam Gimbel, a Bavarian Jewish immigrant who built a trading post on the Indiana frontier and a fortune trading with the Shawnee Indians and selling cloth and hairpins to frontier women, was born on this date in 1816. According to Find A Grave, Gimbel “developed a trustworthy reputation with all customers and his motto was well known in the area, ‘Fairness and equality of all patrons, whether they be residents of the city, plainsmen, traders or Indians.’ ... He opened his first department type store in Milwaukee in 1887... [O]ver the years Gimbel’s became the largest department store retail corporation in the world. It would rival Macy’s department store as the preeminent retail outlet in New York City.” His sons developed stores in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York, and Pittsburgh, and the chain peaked with 36 stores in 1987, the year of its closing. The company also founded and owned Saks Fifth Avenue.

Gimbel had “a surplus of capital and a surplus of Gimbels.” —Popular joke of the late 19th century