Samuel Henry Kress
|Died||September 22, 1955 (aged 92)|
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Founder of S. H. Kress & Co.|
Samuel Henry Kress (July 23, 1863 - September 22, 1955) was a businessman and philanthropist, founder of the S. H. Kress & Co. five and ten cent store chain. With his fortune, Kress amassed one of the most significant collections of Italian Renaissance and European artwork assembled in the 20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, a foundation established by Kress would donate 776 works of art from the Kress collection to 18 regional art museums in the United States.
Kress was born in the village of Cherryville, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, the second of seven children born to John Franklin Kress and Margaret Dodson (née Conner) Kress. His father was a retail merchant. His siblings were Mary Conner Kress, Jennie Weston Kress, Palmer John Kress, Claude Washington Kress, and Rush Harrison Kress. Another sibling, Elmer Kress, died ten days after birth. Kress never married or had children. He was a Mason.
Young Kress worked in the stone quarries. Intelligent, energetic and precocious, he earned his teaching credentials by the age of 17 and began work as a schoolteacher. His first position was instructor for a class of 80 students, and he was paid $25 per month. He walked 3 miles each way to the schoolhouse.
In 1887, Kress opened a stationery and notions store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. As the business prospered he used his profits to open additional stores, naming his chain "S. H. Kress & Co." These eventually would become popularly known as the "Kress Five and Dime" stores. Unlike many businessmen of his day who only opened their stores in large urban areas, Kress wisely located his stores in smaller cities in 29 states he felt had growth potential. These stores became the jewel of many of these cities, which only had a dry goods or general store until then. By the mid-1920s, he was living in a penthouse at 1020 Fifth Avenue in New York City, across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he visited and contributed to regularly.
He was a major art collector, and created a foundation to hold and dispose of his vast art collection.
S. H. Kress & Co., a chain of "five and dime" retail department stores, was started in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, by Samuel H. Kress in 1896. Eventually expanding to over 200 locations nationwide, Kress stores were long a familiar sight in many cities and towns of the United States. The Kress chain was known for the fine architecture of the stores, with a number of locations being hailed by architects for their design. A number of former Kress stores, now put to other uses, are ranked as landmarks. Some of the most well-known Kress locations included New York City's Fifth Avenue; Canal Street, New Orleans; and Hollywood's Hollywood Boulevard. In 1964 ownership of Kress was acquired by Genesco, Inc. The company abandoned its center-city stores and moved to the shopping malls. Genesco began liquidating Kress and closing down the Kress stores in 1980.
Kress was founder and president of the eponymous Samuel H. Kress Foundation. An avid art lover, he acquired, through art dealer Joseph Duveen and with the advice of art historian William Suida , a collection of paintings and sculpture, primarily of the Italian Baroque school. Luckily for Kress, these paintings were thought to be "out of date" and "old fashioned" during the Victorian and Edwardian age, so he was able to purchase them at relatively low prices. In 1929 he gave the Italian government a large sum for the restoration of a number of architectural treasures in Italy. Beginning in the 1930s Kress decided to give much of his art collection to museums across the country while he was still alive. Many paintings were donated to the same smaller cities that had brought him his fortune with their stores. In several cases, his gifts became the founding basis for museums in those areas which otherwise could never have afforded artworks of such importance and quality.
On March 17, 1941, Kress and Paul Mellon gave a large gift of art to the people of the United States, thereby establishing the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the gift personally.
Today, the masterpieces Kress donated are considered priceless and the Kress Foundation has dispensed millions of dollars to worthy organizations and institutions in the years since.