Kaufmann's: The Family That Built Pittsburgh’s Famed Department Store (Hardcover)

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Kaufmann's: The Family That Built Pittsburgh’s Famed Department Store By Marylynne Pitz, Laura Malt Schneiderman Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

I have read a lot of books about department stores, Pittsburgh, Jewish culture, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Put them all together and you have Kaufmann’s, a well-researched and engaging history of a store whose main location was once the fourth largest in the country by area. Founded by four brothers, ownership of the store was consolidated by Edgar, the son of Morris, who married Lillian (nee Liliane), daughter of Isaac. Yes, his cousin - illegal in Pennsylvania, but allowable in New York, so that was where they married. As for the rest of the next generation, they were pushed out and helped found Kaufmann & Baer, a down-the-block competitor that eventually became the Pittsburgh branch of Gimbels. Edgar was not just a merchant prince; he was also responsible for two very significant pieces of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. And as for the store, it sold to May Department Stores in 1946, ceased to function as an autonomous division in 2002, and the downtown store, the last survivor of what were once a half dozen large retailers, closed in 2015. 

— Daniel Goldin


In 1868, Jacob Kaufmann, the nineteen-year-old son of a German farmer, stepped off a ship onto the shores of New York. His brother Isaac soon followed, and together they joined an immigrant community of German Jews selling sewing items to the coal miners and mill workers of western Pennsylvania. After opening merchant tailor shops in Pittsburgh’s North and South sides, the Kaufmann brothers caught the wave of a new type of merchandising—the department store—and launched what would become their retail dynasty with a downtown storefront at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. In just two decades, Jacob and his brothers had ascended Pittsburgh’s economic and social ladder, rising from hardscrabble salesmen into Gilded Age multimillionaires.

Generous and powerful philanthropists, the Kaufmanns left an indelible mark on the city and western Pennsylvania. From Edgar and Liliane’s famous residence, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece called Fallingwater, to the Kaufmann clock, a historic landmark that inspired the expression “meet me under the clock,” to countless fond memories for residents and shoppers, the Kaufmann family made important contributions to art, architecture, and culture. Far less known are the personal tragedies and fateful ambitions that forever shaped this family, their business, and the place they called home. Kaufmann’s recounts the story of one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved department stores, pulling back the curtain to reveal the hardships, triumphs, and complicated legacy of the prominent family behind its success.

About the Author

Marylynne Pitz is an award-winning journalist covering art, architecture, books, and history. She was a member of the news team that won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Tree of Life shooting in 2018. She has won five Golden Quills, an Inland Press Association award for investigative reporting, and a Matrix Award. A native of Indianapolis, she has lived in Pittsburgh since 1980.

Laura Malt Schneiderman is a journalist and web developer in Pittsburgh. She has won seven Golden Quills and was part of a team that won the Scripps Howard Edward J. Meeman Award in 2011. Originally from Saint Louis, she has worked in journalism in Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania.

Praise For…

“Journalists Marylynne Pitz and Laura Malt Schneiderman chronicle the proud voyage and eventual capsizing of this emblematic downtown dreadnought in Kaufmann’s: The Family That Built Pittsburgh’s Famed Department Store. The result is a revealing case study of the type of retail institution that once played such a prominent role in American life—as well as a portrait of the glittering Kaufmann family.” —Wall Street Journal

“This popular history . . . is as pleasingly dense with fact, incident, and anecdote as its namesake store was with shirts, handbags, and housewares. Even old-timers will learn something about the store and the fractious—and even tragic—family behind it.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"This popular history, by Marylynne Pitz and Laura Malt Schneiderman, is as pleasingly dense with fact, incident, and anecdote as its namesake store was with shirts, handbags and housewares. Even old-timers will learn something about the store and the fractious – and even tragic – family behind it."--Bill O'Driscoll, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette 


“I love this book. It’s an immigrant story, important Jewish history, a tale of amazing retail success, some juicy inside family info, and it also offers a concise explanation for some of the local, national, and international forces that allowed the rise and eventual end of the great era of beautiful, big, important department stores. It’s also got Fallingwater, the old tradition of holiday windows, fancy boutiques, and the Tic-Toc restaurant. It’s an all-important Pittsburgh history.” —Rick Sebak, public television writer and producer, WQED Pittsburgh

“During the great era of Pittsburgh innovation and industry, one of the most intriguing families to find prosperity in Pittsburgh was the Kaufmanns. Famous for their hugely successful department store, and for commissioning the great architectural triumph of Fallingwater, the Kaufmanns achieved great success and endured a series of family tragedies, including antisemitism in their native Germany and here in America. This rich, highly detailed narrative is written by two of Pittsburgh’s finest journalists. Anyone captured by Pittsburgh history will want to know the Kaufmann saga.” —Maxwell King, author of American Workman: The Life and Art of John Kane and The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

“Marylynne Pitz and Laura Malt Schneiderman may have written a book about the Kaufmann family, but they really have written the story of a time, a country, and a way of life that today exists only in memory but that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. It is a Pittsburgh story, to be sure, but it really is an American story—of triumph and tragedy, of striving and achieving.” —David Shribman, Pulitzer Prize winner and executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“What do you get when two award-winning journalists team up to combine finely honed storytelling skills with high-tech modern research techniques? You get first-rate history. This remarkable book is at once a family history and a biography of their city—Pittsburgh. The authors trace the Kaufmanns’ American journey from fresh-off-the-boat, luggageless immigrants to spectacularly successful merchants who pioneered the modern department store and became philanthropists of the first rank. Pittsburghers will delight in the details behind the famous clock at Fifth & Forbes, Kaufmann’s holiday windows, and Wright’s legendary Fallingwater. Readers will also be intrigued by stories of family feuds, infidelities, tragedy, lavish lifestyles, and business deals and missteps.”Andrew E. Masich, president and CEO, Senator John Heinz History Center

Product Details
ISBN: 9780822947455
ISBN-10: 0822947455
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication Date: October 18th, 2022
Pages: 280
Language: English