7. A.T. Stewart: From Lace to Riches
A.T. Stewart & Co. (ca. early 1850s). Enos Collection. Via New York Public Library Digital Collections
As the founder of America’s first department store and first commercial palace, A.T. Stewart became a leading merchant prince of his era. Rather than a rags to riches story, his was more lace to riches.
An immigrant from Belfast who was raised by his grandfather after being orphaned as a child, he used his inheritance to import lace and other Irish products and opened a dry goods store on Broadway in 1823. He pioneered a “one-price” policy for all products and his business thrived, enabling him to build the marble palace.
Stewart also branched out into other endeavors. These included founding Garden City, Long Island, becoming a major art collector, and almost serving as treasury secretary in 1869. (He had to decline the appointment due to concerns about conflicts of interest with his business dealings.)