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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, Pennsylvaniamarker, the second of seven children born to John Franklin Kress and Margaret Dodson (nee 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 being born. His father was a retail merchant.

In his youth Kress found work in the stone quarries. A highly intelligent individual, he obtained 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 for which he was paid $25 per month and which required he walk 3 miles each way to the schoolhouse.

He opened a retail business in 1887, which was described as a "stationery and notions" store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvaniamarker. As the business prospered he used his profits to open additional stores, naming the stores in the 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 spread over 29 states he felt would grow in commerce and prosperity. These stores became the jewel of many of these cities, who only had a dry goods or general store until then. Kress never married or had children. He was a Mason. There is speculation in several publications that indicate Kress was homosexual, but if he was, he most certainly would have maintained discretion given the times and his social status. 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 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 auction 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 and well. Many of the paintings he donated to those same smaller cities that brought him his fortune with their stores. In several cases, his gifts become the basis for the start of art museums in those areas which never would have afforded artworks of this importance and quality.

On March 17, 1941, Kress gave a large gift of art with Paul Mellon to the people of the United States and thus began 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.

A Kress store building, showing the characteristic design
S. H. Kress & Co., a chain of "five and dime" retail department stores, was started in Nanticoke, Pennsylvaniamarker, 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 Citymarker's Fifth Avenue, Canal Street, New Orleans, and one at Hollywoodmarker's Hollywood Boulevardmarker. 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.

Art Collector

Kress was a passionate collector of paintings and sculpture, especially that of the Italian Renaissance and Italian Baroque.

The Kress Foundation

In 1929, at the age of 65, he 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

  • Lowe Art Museummarker, University of Miami Coral Gables, FL (Paintings 44, Sculptures 3)


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