Kaufmann's Department Store Photographs

What's online?

The Kaufmann’s Department Store online photographs include depictions of the store’s early history and employees, interior views of store departments and restaurants, window displays, executives, store events, expansions to the Kaufmann’s Department Store downtown and regional locations, Kaufmann family members and philanthropic projects.

What's in the entire collection?

The Kaufmann’s Department Store Records and Photographs include correspondence, catalogs, employee newsletters, photographs and negatives which document the store’s operations throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Included are materials relating to store anniversaries, promotions, employees and physical expansions, as well as materials related to the Kaufmann family and family members’ civic and philanthropic projects.

About Kaufmann’s Department Store

The earliest iteration of Kaufmann’s Department Store, J. Kaufmann & Brother, was founded in 1871 by German-Jewish immigrant brothers Jacob and Isaac Kaufmann. Their shop at 1916 Carson Street in Birmingham (now Pittsburgh’s South Side) offered tailoring and ready-to-wear men’s clothing. After recording a successful $21,585 in sales in their first year, the brothers funded the immigration of two of their younger siblings; fourteen-year-old Morris joined the business in 1872 followed by Henry, then sixteen, in 1876. In 1872, the Kaufmanns moved their shop to 1932 Carson Street and opened a second branch on Federal Street in Allegheny (Pittsburgh’s North Side) about 1875. In 1878, both locations closed to make way for a new four-story store at 83 Smithfield Street.

Advertising as “Kaufmann’s Cheapest Corner,” the business soon acquired several adjacent addresses, eventually occupying 83-87 Smithfield Street under the name J. Kaufmann and Brothers. As business grew, the brothers began introducing the kind of interior features for which the store became known: a grand staircase and electric chandeliers installed in 1882 and a hydraulic elevator installed in 1885 presaged the Carrara-glass columns and escalators added in 1926. By 1888, Kaufmann’s stocked women’s clothing, housewares and shoes. The building underwent nearly constant revisions, including a corner at Forbes Avenue rebuilt in 1908 by architect Charles Bickel and an addition by Jannsen & Abbott along Fifth Avenue in 1913. In the 1890s, a bronze, four-faced freestanding clock was added to the street below, introducing the phrase “meet me under the Kaufmann’s clock.” The clock was replaced by an ornate bronze mounted timepiece after the 1913 renovations, and the corner remained a popular Pittsburgh meeting place well into the late twentieth century. When the business was incorporated in January of 1913, the Gazette Times called it “one of the most important department stores in the United States.”

In 1920, Edgar J. Kaufmann, son of Morris Kaufmann, assumed the store’s presidency. Under the leadership of Kaufmann and his wife, Liliane, the store embraced innovations in fashion, design, telecommunications and product testing. A 2.5-million-dollar refurbishment of the store’s first floor and Arcade was completed in 1930. The Vendôme, the store’s famous penthouse fashion shop, was founded by Liliane Kaufmann in 1933. Exhibitions highlighting arts and sciences were held semi-annually. After Kaufmann’s merged with the May Department Stores Company in 1946, Edgar Kaufmann remained at the helm. The 19-story Frick Annex Building on Forbes Avenue and Carnegie-Illinois Building on Fifth Avenue were purchased in 1950 to make way for a service building and sales annex. Kaufmann’s downtown location remained its flagship store as a regional expansion began. Suburban branch locations built in Monroeville, Mt. Lebanon and the North Hills in the late 1960s preceded branches in Steubenville, Ohio, Erie, Pa., New York and West Virginia. Many were replaced by embedded shopping mall locations in the 1980s. After Federated Department Stores acquired the May Company in 2005, the Kaufmann’s name was replaced by Macy’s. The downtown location closed in 2015 after a decade under the Macy’s banner and was sold to developers in 2016.

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