Rodman Wanamaker

Lewis Rodman Wanamaker

Wanamaker in 1927
Born (1863-02-13)February 13, 1863
Died March 9, 1928(1928-03-09) (aged 65)
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Education Princeton University (1886)
Spouse(s) Fernanda Henry
Children Fernanda Wanamaker
John Wanamaker II
Anne Marie Louise Wanamaker
Parent(s) John Wanamaker

Lewis Rodman Wanamaker (February 13, 1863 – March 9, 1928) was a department store magnate.[1] He owned stores in Philadelphia, New York City, and Paris, France. He was a patron of the arts, of education, of golf and athletics, of Native American scholarship, and was an investor in early aviation. He served as a Presidential Elector for Pennsylvania in 1916.


He was born on February 13, 1863 in Philadelphia to John Wanamaker and Mary Erringer Brown.

He entered Princeton University in 1881, graduating in 1886. In college he sang in the choir, and was a member and business manager of the Princeton Glee Club. He was a member of the Ivy Club, the first eating club at Princeton University. He was a member of the 1885 Tiger football team that won the national championship when a dramatic last-minute punt return bested the Yale Bulldogs.

In 1886 he joined his father's business, and married Fernanda Henry of Philadelphia. He went to Paris as resident manager in 1889, and lived abroad for more than ten years. When his father purchased the former Alexander Turney Stewart business in New York in 1896, he helped revolutionize the department store with top quality items and is credited in particular with fueling an American demand for French luxury goods.

In 1911 he bought the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph.[2]

Wanamaker was content to live in his father's shadow and did not actively seek the limelight except for some official, largely ceremonial positions he held in the City of New York toward the end of his life. Before John Wanamaker died in 1922 he turned all his holdings of the two stores over to Rodman. John Wanamaker had been the sole owner of the business, with his death in 1922, complete control and management passed from father to son. No other retail merchandising business on so large a scale in the world was in the hands of a single man.

Rodman Wanamaker suffered from kidney disease in the last decade of his life and the toxins from this condition slowly took their toll on his health. Rodman Wanamaker had a son, Captain John Wanamaker, and two daughters. The son had a number of personal problems that made his choice as successor to the father increasingly problematic. After his death control of the stores passed to a board of trustees charged with serving the interests of the surviving Rodman Wanamaker family.

He died on March 9, 1928, Atlantic City, New Jersey.[1] He was interred in the Wanamaker family tomb in the churchyard of the Church of St. James the Less in Philadelphia.[3]


The Wanamaker Organ in Wanamaker's (now Macy's) department store at 13th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, was substantially enlarged by Rodman Wanamaker in 1924. It is presently the world's second largest playing pipe organ; the world's largest pipe organ is located at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Wanamaker sponsored elaborate recitals in the Grand Court of the Philadelphia store, often featuring Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. As many as 15,000 people attended these admission-free events, at which all display counters and fixtures were removed by an army of workers so that seating could be put in place. Under Wanamaker's guidance famous organists were brought to play the Wanamaker Organs in Philadelphia and New York, including Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne, Marco Enrico Bossi and Nadia Boulanger. Wanamaker also sponsored a Concert Bureau to book European organists on trans-American concert tours.

In 1926 Wanamaker commissioned a 17-ton bell from founders Gillett & Johnston. It was eventually placed atop the Wanamaker Men's Store at Broad Street and Center Square in the Lincoln-Liberty Building. It was the largest tuned bell in the world when it was cast.

Toward the end of his life, Wanamaker gathered a huge collection of stringed instruments, known as The Cappella, that featured violas and violins from such masters as Guarnerius and Stradivarius. The orchestra concerts ended with Wanamaker's death in 1928, and the stringed instruments were also sold at that time.


The America flying boat on Lake Keuka

Rodman Wanamaker was a pioneer in sponsoring record-breaking aviation projects and in particular and especially an important early backer of transatlantic flight development.

In 1913 he commissioned Glen Curtiss and his aircraft company to further develop his experimental flying boat designs into a scaled-up version capable of trans-Atlantic crossing in response to the 1913 challenge prize offered by the London newspaper The Daily Mail. The resulting America flying boat designed under John Cyril Porte's supervision did not cross the Atlantic because of the outbreak of World War I,[4] but was sufficiently promising that the Royal Navy purchased the two prototypes and ordered an additional fifty aircraft of the model for anti-submarine patrolling and air-sea rescue tasks, roles flying boats of today still perform. Concurrently, the design with some improvements from both British and Americans rapidly matured during the war spurring the explosive post-war growth of the flying boat era of International Commercial Aviation, giving Wanamaker at least some claim to being a founding father of an entirely new industry, and the modern world with its characteristically shortened international travel times.

Through the American Trans-Oceanic Company he also funded efforts to increase aircraft range throughout the next decade so that Wanamaker's entry, the Fokker trimotor America, belatedly flown by Commander Richard E. Byrd transited across the Atlantic only a few days after Lindbergh's historic solo crossing on May 21–22, 1927 that won the cash prize in the contest.[5] In both cases, aviation and arguably the world benefited from the sponsorship of Wanamaker.

Liturgical arts

Wanamaker Tomb and Bell Tower, Church of St. James the Less, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rodman Wanamaker was a patron of many important commissions in the field of liturgical arts, and his legacy includes a sterling silver altar and silver pulpit at the church of the Queen's estate in Sandringham, England,[6] as well as a massive processional cross for Westminster Abbey. He made important additions to his Philadelphia parish of St. Mark's Church, notably the sumptuously-appointed Lady Chapel, which was a memorial to his first wife, Fernanda.[7]

He commissioned architect John T. Windrim to design a free-standing bell tower for the Church of St. James the Less in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Allegheny West. It is also an extensive mausoleum for the Wanamaker family.

Wanamaker-Millrose Games

In 1908 Rodman Wanamaker initiated the Millrose Games. They are now held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Millrose was Wanamaker's country estate near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania) He also inaugurated the Wanamaker Mile, and reportedly began the tradition of playing The Star Spangled Banner at a sporting event.

Native Americans

Between 1908 and 1913, Wanamaker sponsored three photographic expeditions to the American Indians intended to document a vanishing way of life and make the Indian "first-class citizens" to save them from extinction. At that time, Indians were viewed as a "Vanishing Race," and efforts were made to bring them increasingly into the mainstream of American life, often at the expense of their culture and traditions. Joseph K. Dixon was the photographer. On the first expedition, he made many portraits and captured scenes of Indian life. Dixon published them in a book, "The Vanishing Race." Sadly, original copies of the book are becoming scarce as people break it up to sell the photographs individually. The expedition climaxed on the Crow Indian Reservation with the filming of a motion picture about Hiawatha. The second expedition in 1909 involved a motion filming a reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The third expedition, the "Expedition of Citizenship," took place in 1913. For it, the American flag was carried to many tribes, and their members were invited to sign a declaration of allegiance to the United States.

National American Indian Memorial (1913, unbuilt).

The resulting large bromide prints were presentation photographs, such collections having been placed in several museums. Mostly, the subjects are Blackfeet, Cheyennes, Crows, Dakotas, and other northern plains tribes. Both the glass prints and film negatives of the Wanamaker Collection photographed by Dr. J. Dixon were donated to Indiana University's Mathers Museum of World Cultures. They are currently stored at the museum. Many of his more popular pieces are displayed at the museum in both a traveling exhibit and as reprints from the original glass slides and negatives. For information on the exhibit or collections please contact the curator of collections. Thousands of original glass plate negatives are also held in the Research Library of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The Wanamaker photographic expeditions are fictionally treated in the novel "Shadow Catcher" by Charles Fergus.

In 1909, Wanamaker conceived the idea of a national monument to Native Americans. He developed the project for a Statue of Liberty-like colossal statue, and sponsored the 1913 groundbreaking for a National Memorial to the First Americans on Staten Island, at the mouth of New York Harbor. The monument was never built, but photographs of the groundbreaking are represented in the American Museum of Natural History's Library's collection.

Professional Golfers Association

1933 PGA champion Gene Sarazen, with the Wanamaker Trophy.

On January 17, 1916, Wanamaker invited a group of 35 prominent golfers and other leading industry representatives, including the legendary Walter Hagen, and the "Father of American Golf" Alexander A. Findlay to a luncheon at the Taplow Club in New York for an exploratory meeting, which resulted in the formation of the Professional Golfers' Association of America (PGA). During the meeting, Wanamaker hinted that the newly formed organization needed an annual all-professional tournament, and offered to put up $2,500 and various trophies and medals as part of the prize fund. Wanamaker’s offer was accepted, and seven months later, the first PGA Championship was played at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York. Jim Barnes was the first winner of the event and Thomas Kerrigan, the Head Golf Professional at Siwanoy Country Club at the time, was the first player ever to tee off. [8]

First held in October 1916, the PGA Championship has evolved into one of the world’s premier sporting events, one of golf's four major championships. Each year, now in early August, a top course in the United States hosts the world’s best professionals, as they compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.

World War I

Wanamaker Fountain, Sarcus, France.

He accepted an appointment during World War I as Special Deputy Police Commissioner in New York City, greeting distinguished guests from around the world and helping organize the victory parade for General John J. Pershing and the returning doughboys. He purchased more World War I bonds than anyone else in the United States, and generously allowed the use of his residences for the war effort, "virtually putting his enormous wealth at the disposal of the United States." After the war Wanamaker acted as something of an official greeter for the City of New York, often lending his Landaulette Rolls-Royce for ticker-tape parades.

After the war, he financed the rebuilding of a school in Sarcus, France. A town fountain was dedicated in his memory.


His Palm Beach, Florida winter home, La Guerida (or "bounty of war"), was built in 1923 by Addison Mizner. In 1933 it was purchased by Joe Kennedy for a paltry $120,000 (equal to $2,197,326 today) and would later become John F. Kennedy's “Winter White House”. The house regained notoriety from the headline-grabbing William Kennedy Smith rape trial in 1991. Smith was acquitted of the charges by a jury. It was sold to John K. Castle, chief executive of Castle Harlan, and his wife Marianne, in 1995. Rodman Wanamaker also had a townhouse on Spruce Street in Philadelphia, a New York residence near Washington Square, a house in Atlantic City (where he died), and a country home near his father's estate in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

See also


  1. 1 2 "R. Wanamaker Dies Suddenly At 65 At Atlantic City. Acute Uremia Following a Cold Causes Death of Merchant in His Seaside Villa. Man Of Wide Interests. Body Taken to Country Home Near Philadelphia. To Be Buried Beside Father. Tributes Paid By Notables. Coolidge, Smith and Others Tell of Services to Nation. Stores Here and Abroad Closed". New York Times. March 10, 1928. Retrieved 2015-07-03. Rodman Wanamaker died unexpectedly yesterday morning at his villa in the Ventnor district of Atlantic City. He was 65 years old. A cold developed complications a week ago, and an acute attack of uremia resulted on Thursday. He was in a coma for several hours before his death.
  2. "Rodman Wanamaker Buys The Evening Telegraph". New York Times. February 3, 1911. Retrieved 2011-05-27. Rodman Wanamaker bought The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph to-day from his brother-in-law, Barclay H. Warburton. Mr. Warburton confirmed the sale when questioned at his home in Ogontz to-night, but declined to give the consideration
  3. "Wanamaker Burial To Be Tomorrow. 200 Leading Men Here and Abroad Invited to Act as the Honorary Pallbearers. Services In Philadelphia. Special Train Will Carry Mourners, Including Mayor Walker, From New York. Funeral in St. Mark's Body Remains at Lindenhurst". New York Times. March 11, 1928. Retrieved 2015-07-03. The funeral of Rodman Wanamaker, who died on Friday, will be held tomorrow afternoon in Philadelphia. A special train will carry honorary pallbearers and other mourners from New York, including Mayor Walker. It will leave Pennsylvania Station at 10 A.M., arriving in Philadelphia at noon. Following the funeral, it will leave on the return trip at 4:30 P.M.
  4. Arthur Sweetser. Opportunities in Aviation.
  5. "Charles Lindbergh Medal of Honor."
  7. A Salute to Rodman Wanamaker
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