|Samuel Henry Kress|
July 23, 1863|
Cherryville, Pennsylvania, U.S.
September 22, 1955 (aged 92)|
New York City, New York, 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 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. His father was a retail merchant. 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 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 the founder and president of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. An avid art lover, he acquired, through art dealer Joseph Duveen, 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 Luckily for Kress, these paintings were thought to be "out of date" and "old fashioned" during the Victorian and Edwardian age, so he was able to purchase them at relatively low prices.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 become 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 Museum 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.
S. H. Kress & Co.
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 most 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 one at 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.
The Kress Foundation
In 1929, at the age of 65, Samuel H. Kress established the Kress Foundation to promote understanding and appreciation of European art in the United States. Kress was a major early donor to the U.S. National Gallery of Art. He also donated art to more than 40 other U.S. museums. Samuel H. Kress died in New York City.
American museums having important Samuel H. Kress Collections
- National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Paintings 376, Sculptures 94, Bronzes 1307, Drawings 38)
- Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania (Paintings 50, Sculptures 3)
- High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia (Paintings 29, Sculptures 3, Furniture 13)
- Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama (Paintings 34, Sculpture 2, Furniture 13, Decorative Arts 4)
- Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina (Paintings 46, Sculptures 2, Bronzes 11, Furniture 9, Tapestries 10)
- Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida (Paintings 44, Sculptures 3)
- Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado (Paintings 46, Sculptures 4)
- El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas (Paintings 56, Sculpture 2)
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii (Paintings 14)
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, Texas (Paintings 30)
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Paintings 14, Sculptures 2)
- Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee (Paintings 27, Sculptures 2)
- New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana (Paintings 29)
- Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon (Paintings 30, Sculptures 2)
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina (Paintings 73, Sculptures 2)
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, California (Paintings 37, Sculpture 1)
- Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington (Paintings 33, Sculptures 2)
- University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona (Paintings 60, Sculptures 3)
- Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Paintings 30, Sculpture 6)
- Samuel H. Kress Foundation
- Samuel Henry Kress on National Gallery of Art Site.