Edgar J. Kaufmann

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Edgar Kaufmann
Edgar Jonas Kaufmann

(1885-11-01)November 1, 1885
DiedApril 15, 1955(1955-04-15) (aged 69)
EducationShady Side Academy
Alma materYale University
Known forOwner of Kaufmann's and commissioner of Fallingwater
ChildrenEdgar Kaufmann, Jr.

Edgar Jonas Kaufmann (November 1, 1885 – April 15, 1955)[1] was an American businessman and philanthropist who owned and directed Kaufmann's Department Store, the most prominent one in 20th-century Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. He is also known for commissioning two modern architectural masterpieces, Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, designed by Richard Neutra.

Early life[edit]

Edgar Kaufmann was born to a Jewish family on November 1, 1885, the eldest son of Morris Kaufmann, who was born in Viernheim, Germany. His uncles, Jacob and Isaac Kaufmann, founded Kaufmann's department store in 1871.[2][3][4]

Kaufmann graduated from Shady Side Academy, a boarding school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.[5]


In Pittsburgh, Edgar Kaufmann generously financed the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Company, and donated US$1.5 million for the erection of the Civic Arena. Improving the infrastructure of the city was one of his concerns; another was art patronage. In 1926, Kaufmann commissioned American artist Boardman Robinson to create a series of nine murals for his flagship department store in Pittsburgh on the history of trade, completed with automobile paint. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his executive offices on the top floor, now installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Edgar Kaufmann was one of the "city's leading citizens" who welcomed Albert Einstein when he visited Pittsburgh in 1934. Einstein was later a house guest at Fallingwater.

Architect Benno Janssen designed several structures for Kaufmann including his Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, residence (1924–25) known as La Tourelle. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce in 1930 awarded an "Excellence in Design" for the facades. Additionally, Janssen designed Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh.

Landmark residences[edit]

Edgar J. Kaufmann and his wife, Liliane, commissioned two of the most recognized landmarks of 20th-century American modernism architecture; Pennsylvania's Fallingwater and the California desert's Kaufmann Desert House. Both are a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, and consistently rank high in the American Institute of Architects "List of 100 most popular buildings in America".

The first was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934, a distinctive country house over the creek at the family's natural Laurel Highlands property southeast of Pittsburgh. The result was the architectural landmark Fallingwater, perched over the Bear Run waterfalls at Mill Run in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Being both patron and owner of Fallingwater has generated a widespread interest in Edgar Kaufmann, more than any other of his civic projects and private accomplishments. A unique designer/patron relationship evolved between Wright and Kaufmann during the complex design-construction process. The house and its extensive professional and public publicity resurrected Wright's career from the Great Depression and his stylistic relegation at the time.[6]

The second landmark house is the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California, designed by architect Richard Neutra completed in 1946.[7] The photographer Julius Shulman created an iconic photograph of it then, bringing International style architecture to greater public exposure.[8] In the 1990s, the residence was extensively restored to the Kaufmann's era by architects Marmol Radziner + Associates, and is now a registered National Historic Landmark.

Personal life[edit]

In 1909, he married Lillian Sarah Kaufmann (d. 1952)[9] in New York City because they could not marry in Pennsylvania as they were first cousins. Lillian was the daughter of Edgar's uncle, Isaac Kaufmann.[2] They had one child, Edgar Jonas Kaufmann, Jr. (1910–1989).

In 1954, after the death of his first wife in 1952 by an overdose of Seconal, he married his secretary and long-time mistress, Grace A. Stoops.[10]

Edgar J. Kaufmann died of bone cancer in 1955 after 7 months of marriage to Grace Stoops. With his first wife, he is entombed in the family mausoleum at Fallingwater.[5] His son's ashes were spread on the property. The majority of his and his wife's estate was left to the Edgar J. Kaufmann Charitable Fund, which concentrates efforts on improving the lives of Pittsburgh's residents. His son Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. inherited Fallingwater, and in 1963 donated it,[11] along with the pristine natural mountain acreage, to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Both are open to the public: the house for tours, and the preserve for walks and hiking.

The office of Edgar J. Kaufmann from the Kaufmann Store in Pittsburgh was given by his son Edgar Jr. to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1974.


  1. ^ "DEATHS". The New York Times. April 16, 1955. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Hoffmann, Donald (1993). Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: The House and Its History. New York: Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486274300. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  3. ^ History of Pittsburgh and Environs, Volume 1. American Historical Company – Forgotten Books (reprint). 1922. pp. 91–92. ISBN 9781334661020. isaac kaufman founder pittsburgh.
  4. ^ "Edgar Jonas Kaufmann (1885-1955)". Fallingwater.
  5. ^ a b "E. J. KAUFMANN, MERCHANT, DEAD | Department Store President in Pittsburgh Was Active in Redevelopment Program". The New York Times. April 16, 1955. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  6. ^ "Merchant Prince and Master Builder" Archived September 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine by Richard L. Cleary, 1999
  7. ^ http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Kaufmann_Desert_House.html Kaufmann Desert House
  8. ^ http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp5-8-08_detail.asp?picnum=7 Nuetra-Kaufmann
  9. ^ "MRS. EDGAR KAUFMANN". The New York Times. September 8, 1952. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  10. ^ "EDGAR KAUFMANN WEDS". The New York Times. September 5, 1954. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  11. ^ "Fallingwater – Frank Lloyd Wright – Tour the house today – Pennsylvania". Fallingwater.

See also[edit]