Abraham (1819-1896) and Sarah Wolf (1820-1879) Kaufmann lived in Viernheim, Germany, where the Kaufmann family had long monopolized the regional cattle and horse trade, according to a 1967 family history compiled by their grandson Abraham Alfred Kaufmann. “Abraham was short of stature, slim, had very thick black hair until his death, brown eyes, dark skin, was strong boned and perpetually bent forward,” his grandson recalled. “He was healthy, very enduring, hot-headed and energetic.” As for his grandmother, he wrote, “She was very religious and wore a scheitel (a wig worn by traditional Jewesses). She was very good hearted and beloved by everyone.”
Abraham and Sarah Kaufmann had eight children, six sons and two daughters. Their sons Jacob, Isaac, Henry and Morris all immigrated to Pittsburgh. Jacob Kaufmann (1849-1905) arrived first, in 1868, and earned enough through peddling to send for his brother Isaac Kaufmann (1851-1921) the following year. They started the J. Kaufmann & Brother men’s store on the South Side of Pittsburgh in 1871 and sent for their brothers Morris Kaufmann (1858-1917) and Henry Kaufmann (1860-1955) the following year. The four brothers opened a second location in old Allegheny City about 1875 before closing the South Side and North Side branches and moving to downtown Pittsburgh about 1877.
By 1886, J. Kaufmann & Brothers occupied an entire block of Smithfield Street between Fifth Avenue and Diamond Street. Known colloquially as “The Grand Depot” and “The Big Store,” the Kaufmanns added women’s clothing, housewares and shoes to its stock. The architect Charles Bickel completed the first section of the existing building in 1898, and the firm Jannsen & Abbott completed an addition in 1913. That year, a second generation incorporated the business as Kaufmann’s Department Store.
Kaufmann’s Department Store joined the May Company in 1946 and expanded the downtown store through the early 1950s to include an annex and a parking garage. The business expanded into the western Pennsylvania suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2002, the May Company moved the headquarters to Boston. In 2006, Federated Department Stores Inc. acquired Kaufmann’s and changed the name to Macy’s.
In 1908, Isaac and Morris Kaufmann purchased a small farm in Harmarville, Pa., to provide immigrant children and convalescing adults the opportunity to visit the country and escape the smoky air in Pittsburgh. They named their “fresh air” camp the Emma Farm Association, in memory of Isaac Kaufmann’s wife, Emma. Through various mergers, the association became the present-day Emma Kaufmann Camp of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and is now located in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Isaac Kaufmann also established the Emma Kaufmann Clinic to train medical students of the Western Pennsylvania Medical College. The building still exists in Polish Hill.
Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann
Morris and Betty Wolf Kaufmann had four children, Stella, Edgar, Martha and Oliver.
Edgar Jonas “E.J.” Kaufmann (1885-1955) attended Pittsburgh public schools and Shady Side Academy and then graduated from Yale University in 1906. He worked in Chicago, Paris and Germany before opening a small general store in Connellsville, Pa., in 1908. He joined the family business the following year as a shipping clerk and spent time in numerous departments within the store before acquiring a controlling interest in 1913 and incorporating the company. Under his presidency, Kaufmann’s became an increasingly sophisticated enterprise attuned to art and design. He organized an “International Exposition of Arts and Industries” in 1926, established foreign buying offices in 27 cities in the mid-1920s and commissioned a $2.5 million renovation of the first floor in 1930. The renovation included a series of Boardman Robinson murals depicting the history of commerce from Ancient Persia to the present. He had two offices, a monastery taproom imported from Europe and a modern office designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Edgar J. Kaufmann approached civic, communal and personal affairs in a similarly grand manner as his commercial affairs. He was a founding member of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, hired the architect Benno Jannsen to design the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association on Bellefield Avenue in Oakland, and commissioned Wright to design Fallingwater, a weekend home on Bear Run in Fayette County, Pa. The house was near a country home owned by the Speyer family.
Edgar J. Kaufmann married Liliane Kaufmann (1889-1952), who was the daughter of his uncle Isaac. Liliane Kaufmann designed and managed the Vendome, an exclusive boutique on the 11th floor of the store. In 1934, she became the first female president of the Montefiore Hospital board of trustees. She established a $1 million fundraising campaign with other members of the Kaufmann family to build a new residence for nurses at the hospital in 1944. After her death, the residence was named in her memory.
Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann had one son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. (1910-1989). A noted art collector, he was a curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and helped promote mid-century modern design through its “Good Design” program.
Stella Kaufmann married Samuel Mundheim, who later became vice president of Kaufmann’s. Martha Kaufmann married Irwin D. Wolf, a cotton broker from Arkansas who came to Pittsburgh and held an executive position with the Kaufmann Department Stores.
Oliver M. Kaufmann (1898-1980) became a vice president of Kaufmann’s. A major philanthropist, he took a particular interest in the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association and the Irene Kaufmann Centers, which eventually merged.
Henry and Theresa Kaufmann
The youngest of the four brothers, Henry Kaufmann, and his wife, Theresa Lissberger Kaufmann, established the Irene Kaufmann Settlement in memory of their daughter in 1908. They subsequently purchased property in the Hill District for the community center in 1925 and funded an expansion in 1929, a series of donations valued at nearly $2 million at the time.
Henry Kaufmann remained involved with the Irene Kaufmann Settlement for the remainder of his life. He was known as “Uncle Henry” to the children at the settlement.