The Bowery roots of a famous uptown gift store

When the store that eventually became Hammacher Schlemmer first opened its doors on the Bowery in 1848, it was a hardware emporium selling hard-to-find items and supplies for men in the cabinet-making and piano-building trades.

(Below, in an undated photo at 209 Bowery, off Rivington Street. Zoom in to see the store neighbors: an oyster house and Tony Pastor’s famed Opera House!)

Not long after, William Schlemmer, the nephew of one of the owners, (he began selling tools in front of the store for $2 a week when he was 12), rose up the ranks and eventually bought out his uncle.

Albert Hammacher, a German immigrant who also worked at the store as a youngster (also for $2 a week—not bad wages in a city where the average yearly salary for a working-class man was in the $300 range), became a principal of the company as well.

(Below, still at 209 Bowery but with a much fancier storefront and some very serious-looking employees, undated photo)

What followed over the next century was a name change, two moves (first to Fourth Avenue and 13th Street in 1904 and then to newly fashionable East 57th Street in 1926, at right), and a refocusing of the company’s merchandise.

Instead of hardware exclusively, Hammacher Schlemmer sold innovative items of the era, from “horseless carriages” to pop-up toasters to electric razors.

Today, Hammacher Schlemmer is still on East 57th Street, and their store windows continue to feature the most eclectic and bizarre presents for everyone on your holiday gift list.

The 7-person tricycle for $20K, maybe?

[Photos: Hammacher Schlemmer]

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8 Responses to “The Bowery roots of a famous uptown gift store”

  1. Bob Says:

    I am sure you recall I commented (with some illustrations) about Hammacher Schlemmer in your related post “The ghost signs behind an ex-Bowery flophouse”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ack, sorry Bob, meant to add that in! The hardware store was originally at 211 Bowery before relocating to 209. See the link above for more info.

  2. Willi Prader Says:

    Maybe the announcement of the matinée of/with John Garth could give us in indication of the year the first phptp was taken?

    • Bob Says:

      “John Garth” by John Brougham premiered in December 1871, so no earlier than that. It was revived in February 1876

      • Bob Says:

        Per Wikipedia, “In 1865 Pastor opened Tony Pastor’s Opera House on the Bowery […] In 1874, Pastor moved his company a few blocks to take over Michael Bennett Leavitt’s former theater at 585 Broadway.”. That puts 1874 as an upper bound on the date of this photo.

        So late 1871-early 1872 is my guess.

  3. Willi Prader Says:

    phptp?? photo…

  4. David H Lippman Says:

    Ah, yes….the Bowery Billionaires…

  5. A Very Long Time Says:

    A Very Long Time

    The Bowery roots of a famous uptown gift store | Ephemeral New York

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