The History of The Altman Foundation

The mission of the Altman Foundation reflects much of the personality and vision of its founder, Benjamin Altman. Altman was born on the Lower East Side in 1840 to immigrant parents. He was a unique and generous individual whose dry goods store, B. Altman & Co., founded in 1865 on Third Avenue at 10th Street, became a major department store. Altman moved his store from 10th Street to 19th Street and Sixth Avenue and finally, in 1906, to the landmark building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. Altmans reflected the commitment of its founder to service to its customers and generosity to its employees. Until its closing in 1989, Altmans was beloved by generations of New Yorkers.

The Altman Foundation was established in 1913 under Benjamin Altman’s will “for the benefit of such charitable and educational institutions in the City of New York as said directors shall approve”. His will bequeathed all his capital stock in B. Altman & Co. to the Altman Foundation. Outright bequests in Altman’s will presage the areas that would become major concerns of the Foundation. He made bequests to several hospitals, the Educational Alliance and the National Academy of Design. He gave his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His dedication to the welfare of the people of New York City and his interests in health, education and the arts are his legacy.

Following Altman’s death, Colonel Michael Friedsam, his close relative and colleague, led the business and the Foundation until his own death in 1931. Friedsam was also an art collector and a philanthropist with a deep interest in New York. The next presidents, John S. Burke and his son, John S. Burke, Jr., carried the Altman tradition of service and support of the community into the modern age. As a result of the tax reform act of 1969, which prohibits the control of businesses by private foundations, the Altman Foundation relinquished ownership of B. Altman & Co. in 1985. While there were restrictions in the Foundation’s original charter limiting grants to within the State of New York, the Trustees have further refined the guidelines to giving within New York City.

Since 1985, the trustees have refined the Foundation’s guidelines in the four areas that were of such concern to Altman, education, health, strengthening communities, and arts and culture. Foundation grants support programs and institutions that enrich the quality of life in the city, with a particular focus on initiatives that help individuals, families and communities benefit from the services and opportunities that will enable them to achieve their full potential. Benjamin Altman’s extraordinary tradition of service in his business and to his community continues through the grants the Foundation makes. For over 100 years the Foundation has been concerned with poverty, immigration, education, public health and the arts. As of 2022, the Foundation has awarded over $370 million in grants that have helped thousands of residents become self-sufficient, contributing New Yorkers and continue Altman’s legacy.

For further information about Benjamin Altman and the history of the foundation, visit The Life and Legacy of Benjamin Altman: 100 Years of Giving section on our website.

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