Edgar J. Kaufmann

Edgar J. Kaufmann

Prominent Jewish German-American businessman and philanthropist
Date of Birth: 10.11.1885
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Edgar J. Kaufmann
  2. Philanthropy and Contributions
  3. Architectural Legacy
  4. Legacy

Biography of Edgar J. Kaufmann

Edgar J. Kaufmann was a renowned German-American businessman and philanthropist. He was the owner and manager of 'Kaufmann's', one of the most famous department store chains of the 20th century in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Kaufmann was also the owner of two architectural masterpieces: the unique 'Fallingwater' house and the 'Kaufmann House' in the desert, both considered as significant examples of international style architecture in the United States.

Philanthropy and Contributions

In Pittsburgh, Kaufmann allocated significant funds to the Light Opera Company and donated $1.5 million for the construction of the 'Civic Auditorium', now known as the 'Civic Arena'. He aimed to improve the city's infrastructure and support the arts. In 1926, Kaufmann commissioned American artist Boardman Robinson to create a series of nine frescoes for his flagship department store in Pittsburgh, which were executed with automotive paint. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the main offices on the upper floor, and today his work is exhibited in an American museum. Architect Benno Janssen was responsible for several projects for Kaufmann, including his residence in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, known as 'La Tourelle'. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce awarded Kaufmann's residence with the title of 'Excellence in Design' in 1930. Janssen also designed the 'Kaufmann's' department store in Pittsburgh.

Architectural Legacy

Edgar J. Kaufmann was born on November 10, 1885. Alongside his wife, he was responsible for the creation of two of the most famous landmarks of the 20th century in American architectural modernism: 'Fallingwater' in Pennsylvania and the 'Kaufmann House' in Palm Springs, California. Both structures quickly became National Historic Landmarks and were listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the American Institute of Architects' list of '100 Most Popular Buildings in America'.

The first project, 'Fallingwater', was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934. It was a radically different country house, featuring a composition of concrete terraces and vertical limestone surfaces supported by steel columns. A part of the rock formation became an integral part of the interior design. Kaufmann paid $155,000 for the project, with $8,000 going to the architect. The unique design and the complex process of realizing the project brought Wright into the spotlight, reviving his career during the Great Depression and establishing him as an innovative architect who influenced the development of Western architecture.

The second landmark, the 'Kaufmann House' in Palm Springs, California, was designed by architect Richard Neutra, one of the pioneers of modernism. Completed in 1946, the house gained international recognition through iconic photographs taken by renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulman. In the 1990s, the 'Kaufmann House' underwent restoration by 'Marmol Radziner + Associates' and is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.


Edgar J. Kaufmann passed away on April 15, 1955. He, along with his wife and son, is buried in the family mausoleum near Fallingwater. The majority of his and his wife's estate was transferred to the Edgar J. Kaufmann Charitable Foundation, dedicated to improving the lives of Pittsburgh residents. His son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., inherited Fallingwater and donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. Today, the house and its surrounding grounds are open for public visitation. Edgar was one of the "leading citizens of the city" entrusted to welcome renowned physicist Albert Einstein during his visit to Pittsburgh in 1934. Einstein later became a guest at Kaufmann's Fallingwater house.