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Newark’s No. 1 Philanthropist

Lawrence Bush
May 14, 2017

Louis Bamberger, founder of one of the country’s first and largest department stories and co-founder with his sister Carrie of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, was born in Baltimore on this date in 1855. Bamberger founded his store in Newark in 1892, and by 1912 he had turned it into a glamorous, block-square, 14-story enterprise with its own telephone exchange, which he sold to R.H. Macy’s by 1929. Upon this sale, he distributed $1 million among 240 of his employees who had given fifteen or more years of service to the company (which had no pension system in place). Bamberger’s was also the site of original Thanksgiving Day Parade, which Macy’s took over in 1921. Bamberger never married, but lived with his sister and her husband while becoming Newark’s most generous benefactor, funding buildings for the city’s YMHA, the Newark Museum, and the New Jersey Historical Society, and making major contributions to the Community Chest and Beth Israel Hospital. He died in 1944, just shy of his 89th birthday.

His “innovations, including newspaper and radio ads and brilliant use of window and in-store displays, established the culture of consumption in twentieth-century America.” --Project MUSE

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.