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February 28: The Brazilian Book Lover

José Ephim Mindlin, a bibliophile who had the largest private library in Latin America (38,000 titles), died in Sao Paolo, his town of birth, at age 95 on this date in 2010. Mindlin was an attorney and a businessman with major holdings in the automotive parts industry — and was one of only two Brazilian […]

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February 8: A Billion Slippers

Florence Zacks Melton, who invented Shoulda Shams, removable shoulder pads, in the 1940s, and Dearfoams, foam-soled, washable slippers — introduced in 1958, with more than a billion pairs now sold — died at 95 on this date in 2007. Co-founder of R.G. Barry Corporation, which today controls nearly 40 percent of the U.S. slipper market, […]

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December 24: Russia’s Railroad Baron

Samuel Polyakov, who had built 1600 miles of railroad track, about a quarter of Russia’s total by the time of his death in 1888 at age 50, was born in Belarus, part of the Russian empire, to a family of Jewish tax collectors and traders on this date in 1838. Like most railroad barons, Polyakov […]

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November 16: Creator of the Factory Outlet Store

Harold Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoes and creator of the first factory outlet store, at which factory-flawed items and unpopular (“stale”) brands are sold at a steep discount, died at 93 on this date in 2007. Alfond worked in Maine’s shoe industry from an early age (he never went to college), and bought an old […]

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October 13: Alan Slifka and the Abraham Fund

Alan B. Slifka, a philanthropist who co-founded (with Eugene Wiener) the Abraham Fund Initiatives in 1989, the first nonprofit organization outside Israel dedicated to furthering coexistence between Israeli Arabs and Jews, was born along with his twin sister in New York on this date in 1929. Slifka was a product of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School […]

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April 21: Baron de Hirsch

Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the German Jewish philanthropist who, before the Zionist movement was launched, took great interest in turning the Jews into an agricultural people, died at 65 on this date in 1896. Baron de Hirsch was the founder and funder of the Jewish Colonization Association, which brought thousands of mostly impoverished Jews from […]

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March 21: Empress of Dance

Estelle Sommers, co-owner of Capezio Ballet Makers and a major supporter of contemporary dance, died at 74 on this date in 1994. Sommers took ballet and tap classes in her youth and was ardently devoted to the art. She transformed her first husband’s Cincinnati fabric store into a dancewear specialty shop, then married Ben Sommers, […]

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February 6: Giant Food’s First Supermarket

Nehemiah Cohen and Samuel Lehrman opened the first Giant supermarket in Washington, DC on this date in 1936. “At a time when most grocery shopping was done at small stores that specialized in meat, vegetables or canned goods,” writes Anthony Ramirez in the New York Times, “Giant Food helped pioneer large stores that offered a […]

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January 7: Sampson Simson

A philanthropist who founded New York’s “Jews’ Hospital,” later Mount Sinai, Sampson Simson died at age 75 on this date in 1857. He was the son of a merchant family involved with shipping and the fur trade in colonial days. Simson studied under Aaron Burr, attended Columbia University in New York, and graduated (possibly Columbia’s […]

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