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Alexander Turney Stewart

Humble Immigrant Becomes the Richest Man in the United States

One of America's most remarkable success stories is that of Alexander Turney Stewart. A humble immigrant with a genius for business, his wealth was estimated at $40 million. His annual income averaged nearly $2 million during the 1860s. ■ Stewart was descended from Scots who emigrated to Ulster in the 17th century. He was born October 12, 1803 near Belfast, the son of a farmer. At age 20 he came to New York. With a small stock of laces and linens, he opened a store before his 22nd birthday. ■ He was so successful that by 1948 he had the largest retail store in the nation with 2,000 employees. Before his death he had two large stores with combined sales of $203 million. ■ In 1869 President Grant appointed Stewart Secretary of the Treasury, but his confirmation was blocked by a law which excluded importers. ■ To overcome objections, Stewart offered to put all of his holdings in trust with the income going to charity. His offer was refused. ■ Turning to charitable works, Stewart sent a boatload of food to Ireland during the mid-century famine in that country. He sent France a boatload of flour following the Franco-Prussian War. He also sent $50,000 to the victims of the Chicago fire in 1871. ■ His home in New York was said to be the finest private home in the nation. His art collection was one of the largest and most valuable. At his death in New York April 10, 1876, he was called "The first of America's merchants and philanthropists." ■ Unfortunately, he left no children to carry on the business and it quickly deteriorated. However, he will long be remembered in the retail trade of the new ideas he introduced into the business.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546