Solomon Robert Guggenheim was a part of an iconic time in Manhattan, a romantic era where industry, finance and modernism met to create a lasting impression on New York culture.
Guggenheim was born February 2, 1861, in Philadelphia. His father, Meyer Guggenheim, was a Swiss immigrant of Ashkenazi descent, who made his family fortune in the mining and smelting industry.
When Solomon was still young, his father sent him to the family’s native Switzerland to study, giving the young man a head start in the entrepreneurial world by the time he returned to the US to strike out in business.
Guggenheim began in the family’s mining business, but eventually founded his own Yukon Gold Company in Alaska, a wild achievement. Among his business pursuits was also the mining company Compania de la Gran Fundicion Nacional Mexicana, which he kept from going under, one of his earliest successes.
Guggenheim married Irene Rothschild in 1895, joining together two of America’s most imminent and wealthy families. The couple had three daughters—Eleanor, Gertrude and Barbara. Eleanor would become part of British aristocracy, when she married a lord and became Lady Castle Stewart in 1920.
Outside of business, Guggenheim was an avid art collector. He began picking up classic pieces in the late 1800’s, devoting increased time to the hobby following his retirement in 1919. He often traveled Europe to acquire more pieces, and displayed his collection for the public at his Plaza Hotel apartment in 1930.
His love of art lent itself to philanthropic efforts, as he established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to inspire appreciation of modern art. In 1939, he collaborated with artists to open the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which showed off the bulk of his collection.
In 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright was brought on to design a permanent space for the museum, a building that would go on to become iconic.
When Guggenheim died on November 3, 1949, the museum was renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a site that today sees massive tourism each year.