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BRENTANO, U.S. family of booksellers. AUGUST (1831–1886) was the founder of the firm of Brentano's, the largest bookselling firm in the world with bookstores in many cities of the United States and London. Born in Austria, Brentano immigrated to the United States in 1853, where he sold newspapers on the streets of New York for two years before setting up a stand for the sale of local and foreign newspapers and magazines. In 1858 he opened a book and stationery store, and in 1870 established the much larger Brentano's Literary Emporium which became New York's leading bookstore, and served at the same time as a meeting place for the literati in New York City. In the 1870s he was joined in his business by his nephews AUGUST (1853–1899) who was born in Evansville, Indiana, ARTHUR (1858–1944), and SIMON (1859–1915), the latter two natives of Cincinnati. In 1877 August Brentano sold the business to his nephews, who expanded the firm and incorporated it in 1887. Simon, who had become head of the firm upon his uncle's retirement, devoted much of his time to the study of fire control and wrote a number of books on the subject. His principal work, which was translated into many languages, is entitled The Control of Fire (1904). In 1894 August Brentano was forced to retire because of illness, leaving his brothers Simon and Arthur to continue to direct and expand Brentano's, which they converted from a corporation into a partnership, with Simon as president of the company. Simon was later succeeded by his brother Arthur, who was also director of Brentano's Ltd., London, and Brentano's S.A., Paris. Arthur Brentano, a fervent canoeist, founded the American Canoe Association and published its magazine. LOWELL (1895–1950), Simon's son, entered the firm after graduation from Harvard in 1918 and took over the responsibility for Brentano's editorial department. He wrote a number of novels and plays, some in collaboration with other writers: Zeppelin (1929); The Spider (1932); Family Affairs (1929); The Penguin Pool Murder (1931); Lady Cop (1934); Torches in the Night (1937); Great Lady (1938); and Bride of a Thousand Cedars: A Novel of Bermuda (1939). Some of his books were made into motion pictures. In 1933 he collaborated with Mae West on the screenplay for I'm No Angel, in which she starred with Cary Grant.

Brentano's headquarters, on New York City's Fifth Avenue, was the largest bookstore in the city and the third largest in the country, with 250,000 books for sale in its 31,000 sq. ft. The bookstore chain had some 20 branches from Chicago to San Francisco, including the Pentagon. One of the oldest and most respected booksellers, Brentano's owed its success to its vast assortment of books, the elegance of its premises, the dedication of each successive family member to the business, its erudite, hand-picked staff, and its remarkably cordial service.


T. Mahoney and L. Sloane, Great Merchants (1966), 133–48.

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


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