Learning About The Man Behind Bamberger’s

Two new books illuminate the life of Louis Bamberger, the entrepreneur, patron of the arts and philanthropist who founded the chain in 1892 in Newark.

The Bamburger's store on Market Street in Newark, circa 1938.
The Bamburger's store on Market Street in Newark, circa 1938.
Photo courtesy of Newark Public Library

For New Jerseyans of a certain age, Bamberger’s is a household name—synonymous with quality shopping. At its peak, the department-store chain had 24  outposts.

Yet few of us know much about Louis Bamberger, the entrepreneur, patron of the arts and philanthropist who founded the chain in 1892 in Newark. Two new books go a long way toward changing that.

Louis Bamberger: Department Store Innovator and Philanthropist, by Linda Forgosh (Brandeis University Press, 2016), examines Bamberger’s life from his beginnings in Baltimore as the son of German-Jewish immigrants. Bamberger was 37 when he purchased a failing shop on Market Street in Newark and relaunched it under the family name. He expanded to the suburbs and built his fortune before selling in 1929 to a rival, R.H. Macy & Co., which maintained the Bamberger name in New Jersey until 1986.

Forgosh helps to fill the gaps left by this mystery man—who never married or had children, left no diary, and who often refused interviews—succeeding, as she writes, in doing “his best to stay out of the public eye.”

Yet Bamberger was one of New Jersey’s foremost philanthropists. He and his sister, Caroline Bamberger Fuld, funded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where Albert Einstein found an intellectual refuge after fleeing Nazi Germany. He also gifted the building that would house the Newark Museum and donated huge sums to what was then Newark Beth Israel Hospital. When Bamberger died in 1944, the city of Newark flew its flags at half-staff.

A second book, Bamberger’s: New Jersey’s Greatest Store, by department-store historian Michael J. Lisicky (The History Press, 2016), thoroughly details the chain itself, and its decades as a Jersey icon.

Both works will arouse a rush of nostalgia. “Some people will tell me the number of the bus they would ride from where they lived to get to downtown Newark to go shopping at Bamberger’s,” Forgosh says. “That’s how vivid their memories are.”

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