Asher Hamburger

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Asher Hamburger
Sketch of Asher Hamburger, printed 1897.jpg
Known forFounder of A. Hamburger & Sons
SpouseHanna Hamburger

Asher Hamburger (1821–1897) was the founder of the A. Hamburger & Sons department store, at the beginning of the 20th century the largest department store in the Western United States, which would in 1923 became May Company California.


Hamburger was born to a Jewish family at Kerche Schönbache or Altenschönbach, near Würzburg, Bavaria, in 1821. When young, he was apprenticed to a ropemaker. He came to the United States in 1839 and settled in New York City, where he first worked in a tassel factory, then moved to Pennsylvania, where he began a small general store.[1][2][3]

From there he went to Alabama, where he was naturalized in 1848 as a U.S. citizen and, in partnership with two brothers, he started in business, opening three stores along the Tombigbee River. In 1849, after gold was discovered in California, he and a brother went west, to Sacramento, where they founded a business, which was burned out twice in the fires which swept the city. In 1851 two of his brothers moved to San Francisco, leaving Asher in charge of the Sacramento store.[1][2][3][4]

He and Hannah Bien were married in New York in 1855.[3][5]

A few years later, the brothers began a wholesale dry-goods firm in San Francisco under the name Hamburger Brothers, where they conducted the Maze, a large department store. After 1865, Asher Hamburger returned to Sacramento to take over the old stores. In 1881 he went to Los Angeles and founded a business, A. Hamburger & Sons, operating as The People's Store, which became the largest dry goods (or department) store in Southern California, catering to working class customers.[1][2][3][6]

In 1874 he was living in Sacramento, California,[4] in 1890, he was at 610 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco,[7] and in 1896 he was at 1424 McAllister in the same city. In that year, he was described in a voting register as five feet five and one half inches tall, with blue eyes and white hair. He was listed as a storekeeper.[8]

In 1908, his firm built the Hamburger Building, the "Great White Store" at Eighth and Broadway, now better known as the Downtown Los Angeles May Co. Building, which at that time was the largest retail building in the West and the country's largest steel-frame structure. Attached to the south end was Hamburger's Majestic Theater, built for stage shows and opera. It was turned into a motion picture theater and later torn down to become a parking lot.[3]

On March 31, 1923, the Hamburgers sold their store to the May family of St. Louis for $8.5 million.[9][10]

Hamburger died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 1, 1897, in the family home on McAllister Street, leaving his widow, Hanna, four sons and a daughter.[1][2][6] He was interred at Home of Peace Cemetery (East Los Angeles).[3]


The Hamburger children founded a home for Jewish "business girls" or "working girls in the lower income group" in Los Angeles at Girard and (1255) Union avenues (in the Pico-Union neighborhood), opened around 1927. A new campus was opened in 1954 at 7357 Hollywood Boulevard because the former property was seen as "unsuited for young women" since the district had become "industrialized." [6] [11][12]


  1. ^ a b c d "Arthur Hamburger Dead," The San Francisco Call, December 2, 1897, image 14
  2. ^ a b c d "A Pioneer Passes Away," The Evening Bee, Sacramento, December 2, 1897, image 5
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Asher Hamburger & Sons: Pioneer Jewish Los Angeles Department Store Merchant Family". Jewish Museum of the American West. November 8, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  4. ^ a b California State Library; Sacramento, California; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4-2A; CSL Roll Number: 34; FHL Roll Number: 977088
  5. ^ "Peremptorily Death Calls," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1907, image 23
  6. ^ a b c Olive Gray, "Portraits Presented Institution," Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1928, image 59
  7. ^ [1] San Francisco County Registrar, 39th Assembly District, 1890
  8. ^ [2] San Francisco County Register, 38th Assembly District, 1896
  9. ^ "Hamburger Store Sold: Millions Paid In Store Deal; Hamburger's Department Store Is Sold to Eastern Merchants". Los Angeles Times. April 1, 1923. p. I1. Alternate Link(subscription required) via ProQuest.
  10. ^ "May Department Stores: Purchase of Hamburger & Sons Includes Long-Time Lease --Profits of Store $1,000,000 a Year". The Wall Street Journal. February 26, 1923. p. 16. Alternate Link(subscription required) via ProQuest.
  11. ^ "Hamburger Home Buys Hollywood Blvd. House," Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1952, image 131
  12. ^ "Ground Breaking Today," Los Angeles Times, June 27, 1954, image 95