The collection consists of letters that Alexander T. Stewart received from strangers requesting financial help, jobs, loans,
or other forms of assistance. The majority of the letters are dated 1871 to March 1876.
Alexander Turney Stewart, an Irish American entrepreneur and philanthropist. Stewart was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland,
to a Protestant family. Stewart graduated from Belfast Academical Institution, and in 1818 left for New York. There he was
hired as a tutor at Isaac N. Bragg's Academy, and jointed the Rev. Edward Mitchell’s Episcopal Church. There he met his future
wife Cornelia Mitchell Clinch, the daughter of a wealthy ship chandler. They were married on October 16, 1823. On September
1, 1823, Stewart opened his first store, located at 283 Broadway. His business grew rapidly, in large part due to skillful
advertising. In 1848, Stewart moved to his famous new building, the Marble Palace at 280 Broadway. The establishment, one
of the earliest department stores, made A.T. Stewart & Co. one of the top American retailers. In the 1850s, he also opened
a store on “Ladies’ Mile," on Broadway and Sixth Ave. In 1862, Stewart’s “true” department store, the Iron Palace, was completed.
The impressive cast-iron building occupied a large part of the city block from Broadway and Ninth to Tenth Street and Astor
Palace; the store’s nineteen departments sold everything from dress goods to toys. Stewart also established one of the first
mail-order businesses in the country. In 1868, he started offering his female customers outside New York City mail order purchases.
Stewart's success gained much attention, and other big retailers adopted his practice.
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