Edgar J. Kaufmann

Edgar J. Kaufmann

Edgar J. Kaufmann (November 1, 1885 – April 15, 1955) was a prominent Jewish German-American businessman and philanthropist. A graduate of Shady Side Academy and Yale University, he owned and directed Kaufmann's Department Store, the most prominent one in 20th-century Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Edgar Kaufmann was the owner of two architectural masterpieces; the eastern mountain "Fallingwater" and western desert "Kaufmann House".

In Pittsburgh, Edgar Kaufmann generously financed the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Company, and donated US$1.5 million for the erection of the Civic Arena. Improving the infrastructure of the city was one of his concerns; another was art patronage. In 1926, Kaufmann commissioned American artist Boardman Robinson to create a series of nine murals for his flagship department store in Pittsburgh on the history of trade, completed with automobile paint. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his executive offices on the top floor, now installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Edgar Kaufmann was one of the "city's leading citizens" who welcomed Albert Einstein when he visited Pittsburgh in 1934. Einstein was later a house guest at their mountain retreat "Fallingwater".

Architect Benno Janssen designed several structures for Kaufmann including his Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania residence (1924–25) known as La Tourelle. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce in 1930 awarded an "Excellence in Design" for the facades. Additionally Janssen designed Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh.

Landmark residences

Edgar J. Kaufmann and his wife, Liliane, commissioned two of the most recognized landmarks of 20th-century American modernism architecture; Pennsylvania's "Fallingwater" and the California desert's "Kaufmann Desert House". Both are a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, and consistently rank high in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) "List of 100 most popular buildings in America".

The first was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934, a distinctive country house over the creek at the family's natural Laurel Highlands property southeast of Pittsburgh. The result was the architectural landmark "Fallingwater", perched over the Bear Run waterfalls at Mill Run in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Being both patron and owner of "Fallingwater" has generated a widespread interest in Edgar Kaufmann, more than any other of his civic projects and private accomplishments. A unique designer/patron relationship evolved between Wright and Kaufmann during the complex design-construction process. The house and its extensive professional and public publicity resurrected Wright's career from the Great Depression and his stylistic relegation at the time.[1]

The second landmark house is the "Kaufmann House" in Palm Springs, California, designed by architect Richard Neutra completed in 1946.[2] The photographer Julius Shulman created an iconic photograph of it then, bringing International Style architecture to greater public exposure.[3] In the 1990s, the residence was extensively restored to the Kaufmann's era by architects Marmol Radziner + Associates, and is now a registered National Historic Landmark.

Edgar J. Kaufmann died in 1955, and with his wife, is entombed in the family mausoleum at "Fallingwater". His son's ashes were spread on the property. The majority of his and his wife's estate was left to the Edgar J. Kaufmann Charitable Fund, which concentrates efforts on improving the lives of Pittsburgh's residents. His son Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. inherited "Fallingwater" and in 1963 donated it,[4] along with the pristine natural mountain acreage to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Both are open to the public: the house for tours, and the preserve for walks and hiking.


  1. ^ "Merchant Prince and Master Builder" by Richard L. Cleary, 1999
  2. ^ http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Kaufmann_Desert_House.html Kaufmann Desert House
  3. ^ http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp5-8-08_detail.asp?picnum=7 Nuetra-Kaufmann
  4. ^ http://www.fallingwater.org/

The office of Edgar J Kaufmann from the Kaufmann Store in Pittsburgh was given by his son Edgar Jr. to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 1974.

See also

  • official Fallingwater website
  • official Western Pennsylvania Conservancy website
  • New York Times article on Kaufmann