Alexander T. Stewart: The Forgotten Merchant Prince

Alexander T. Stewart: The Forgotten Merchant Prince

Alexander T. Stewart: The Forgotten Merchant Prince

Alexander T. Stewart: The Forgotten Merchant Prince


This is the first major biography of Alexander I. Stewart, known during his lifetime as "The Merchant Prince" for his success in retail, wholesale, and manufacturing in New York City. At the time of his death in 1876, Stewart was one of the three wealthiest men in America, along with William B. Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. But because he died with no surviving children, his name has all but been forgotten. In this work, Stewart is revived, his remarkable success as the "father" of the department store examined, and his great contributions to retailing acknowledged and recounted.


His selection [of Stewart as secretary of the treasury] spoke eloquently for what Ulysses Grant was trying to accomplish as he moved into the uncertainties of the White House. Stewart was a storekeeper who had not failed.

McFeely Grant, 291

On March 5, 1869, immediately following his inauguration, Ulysses S. Grant announced the appointment of Alexander T. Stewart as secretary of the Treasury. the appointment came as a great surprise to politicians, the media, and the nation in general. Although widely known, Stewart was not a major political figure. His dealings with governmental leaders, including presidents Lincoln and Johnson, were largely personal or related to his business, and had not received national attention. Stewart always preferred to keep his relationships on a personal basis, generally maintaining a low profile. Why did Grant, a nationally renowned hero, choose as one of his key appointees a man who was bound to stir up a great deal of controversy? What was the connection between Grant and Stewart?

Grant had visited New York in 1854. He was still on active duty in the army, recently promoted to the permanent rank of captain. He was stationed in San Francisco, and his promotion represented a distinction, as there were only fifty captains on active duty in the small peacetime army. He had recently tendered his resignation, and was returning to Galena, Illinois, where he scrabbled out a living until the commencement of the Civil War. Stewart was known as a local political contributor. His views on . . .

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