The notion of a brand having a noble purpose, something more than just profit or return on shareholders’ investment, is very much in vogue but as the story of FAO Schwarz shows it is nothing new.
In 1856, Frederick, the youngest of three Schwarz brothers, emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, joining his brothers in Baltimore, Maryland. A few years later in 1862, the brothers opened ”Toy Bazaar” a specialist toy retailer.
It was a success but wasn’t quite all what young Frederick had dreamed of. He had a bigger bolder vision of a magical toy emporium with one-of-a-kind toys from all over the world presented as a lavish theatrical experience.
So leaving his brothers to run separate stores in Baltimore and Boston, Frederick moved to New York City where in 1870 he opened ”Schwarz Brothers – Importers” which he stocked with beautiful toys and playthings from Europe. The business grew rapidly and became the destination for unique, high-quality toys in New York.
Frederick opened a second New York City location in 1876 to meet increased demand. He also moved into the catalogue business, creating one of the first mail order businesses in the country. Over the next 30 years, the store moved to larger, more prominent locations throughout New York City several times. By 1900, Frederick had renamed the stores ”FAO Schwarz.” They were considered by many to be the largest toy dealer in the world.
Sadly, Frederick August Otto Schwarz passed away in 1911, but his beloved brand lives on.
Towards the end of his life, he spoke about what drove him and not surprisingly, it wasn’t just money.
“I have made toys my life study … It is a splendid issue, and aside from the commercial question, there is more solid satisfaction in dealing with childhood playthings, and in knowing the joy one is sending out into the hearts of the little ones, than in selling any other commodity in the world.”
Footnote: In 1986 FAO Schwarz moved to its famous site at 767 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street, complete with its iconic greeters, the real life toy soldiers and the large floor piano that has featured in a number of Hollywood films. To the dismay of many New Yorkers, it has recently announced that this store will close in July 2015 due to the rising rents costs.