Bernard A. Rosenberg

1886 – 1972
Forstmann Woolens, New York City
Bernard A. Rosenberg 1886­ – 1972

 

Bernard Abraham Rosenberg was a long­time trusted employee and sales genius of Forstmann Woolens who assuredly lived the American Dream. Bernard (Bernie), was born in Odessa, Russia, and was among the many Jews of Eastern Europe who fled the pogroms in the late 1800s. Many came to America. Bertha and Phineas Rosenberg had seven children. When Phineas died in early 1890, Bertha vowed to bring her family to America and restart. They made their way to Antwerp, Belgium and sailed for New York in September, 1890. The family arrived and settled in the lower East side of Manhattan. Bernard was four years old. The children entered the local schools and survived incredible overcrowding – 50 students in a classroom was not unheard of. Unfortunately, the economic situation in the Rosenberg family forced Bernie to leave school at an early age. In 1898, at the age of fourteen, Bernie went to work. Many details are lost to us but what we know is very interesting as the poor immigrant rose through the ranks.

Stern Brothers 1898­ – 1905 His first job was at Stern Brothers department store where he wrapped packages in the basement. After a few years when he did not get an expected promotion, he decided to leave Stern.

Haas Brothers 1905 – ­1918 In 1905, Bernie went to work for a fabric supplier or “jobber” named Haas Brothers Fabric Corporation. At the time, jobbers acted as the middlemen between manufacturers and tailors. Good quality ready­made clothing was not available on the shelves of stores. Instead, a lady who wanted a new outfit visited a jobber who took the fabric to the designated tailor where the lady was measured and fitted. Bernie began as a stock clerk whose job was to help salesmen. Bernie brought out fabric samples to show the customers and put things away after they were shown. One prominent customer was Mrs. Vincent Astor, one of New York’s most fashionable high society ladies. One day she entered the showroom wearing a stylish hat with a long bird’s plume and asked to see fabric to match. When he could not find such fabric, he asked to keep the feather for one day in order to find that special fabric. Bernie predicted that such a shade would be the hit of the season, so he had fabric custom dyed that evening and supplied the fabric to Mrs. Astor. It was indeed the hit of the season.

Bernard A. “Bernie” Rosenberg ca. 1915
Photos Courtesy Alan Revere

Over the years, Mr. Haas realized that Bernard Rosenberg possessed an eye for fashion and more importantly, a business sense to please many customers. Bernie was promoted to buyer, then to overseer of allpurchases. He was routinely sent to Europe and scouted the finest fabrics available on the continent. He was in Europe when war broke out in 1914 and was briefly stranded.

Bergdorf Goodman It was not until World War I that high quality “ready­to­wear” garments became available to American consumers. Inconsistent quality and reliable quantity made early attempts at volume production of clothing impossible. In 1905 with the opening of the first Forstmann and Huffmann mills in New Jersey, all this began to change. Julius Forstmann convinced his German management there was a strong market for US­ produced high quality woolen goods and built a greige mill for weaving and another mill for dyeing and finishing the very best quality that could be produced. Along about 1909, Bernie introduced the Forstmann fabrics to Edwin Goodman, president of Bergdorf Goodman, one of the leading women’s wear emporiums in New York. Thus began a long­standing relationship between Bernie and Bergdorf Goodman.

Forstmann Woolens 1918­ – 1956 It was in his capacity as buyer for Haas Brothers that Bernie saw many suppliers and he realized there was something special about Forstmann fabrics. With 1,500 employees, it was not the largest but was widely regarded as the Tiffany of the woolen fabric field. After watching Bernie Rosenberg select fabrics from his company that regularly became Haas Brothers’ biggest hits, Forstmann realized Rosenberg was responsible for the success of his customer. Forstmann offered Bernie a job directing merchandising and manufacturing. Bernie refused to work for a salary – he negotiated a deal for 1 per cent of gross. With sales of about $10,000,000 per annum, Bernie started at $100,000 ­ the same money he was already earning at Haas, but the potential for forward earnings was so much more.

And so, in 1918, after 13 years with Haas Brothers, Bernard Rosenberg moved to Forstmann and Huffmann. He divided his time between the showroom in New York where Forstmann had a presence for over 50 years and the plants in Garfield and Passaic, New Jersey where he developed new fabrics probably working closely with Gerhard Wiegand to develop the new shades. Over the next 38 years, Bernie became known simply as Mr. B­A­R (from his Americanized name, Bernard Abraham Rosenberg) to those in the trade. The gross receipts of the company grew steadily in the 1920s, as did Bernie’s influence and financial compensation. He became the only non­family member (and the only Jew) to hold a senior executive position at the German family­run business.

In the early 1920s, Julius Forstmann bought out his partner and renamed the company the Julius Forstmann Corporation. Later it was known as Forstmann Woolen Company and the sales and distribution division was called Forstmann, Inc. The success of the company was phenomenal. In 1923, five years after joining the company, gross revenue grew to $25 million. Bernie’s compensation was $230,000, and topped the list of the highest paid executives in New York State as published in the New York Herald Tribune. A letter of introduction signed by Julius Forstmann and dated November 17, 1924, gives Bernie full authority to represent the company in dealings with Cheney Brothers, a leading silk fabric supplier. In 1925, Bernie was named president of Forstmann Woolens, Inc. He chose colors (shades), suggested weaves, mixed fibers and experimented with textures. He became known as the fashion genius of the woolen industry.

Letter of Introduction to Cheney Brothers, signed by Julius Forstmann

Forstmann Fabrics made up into a stylish coat
Life Magazine Inside Cover
Oct 13, 1952

There are many stories of the insight and genius of this man. In one case, Bernie discovered they had over­ produced particular broadcloth that regularly sold for $2.75 a yard. (The market suddenly vanished.) He went back to the mill, had the fabric closely cropped (sheared), which dramatically altered the surface texture, named it “Peachbloom” and had it dyed to a new array of colors. He rushed samples to one of his best customers who eagerly bought all of it for $5.00 a yard.

Bernie hosting customers

Chairman of the Board

In 1950, Bernard Rosenberg was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forstmann Woolens joining a select group of five individuals including Curt Forstmann, and Julius G. Forstmann, sons of the company founder. Bernie had been president of Forstmann, Inc. since 1925. Bernie retired in 1956 at the age of 72, well past the normal retirement age of 65.

Engraved Georg Jensen silver pitcher with ivory handle his retirement gift

Obituary July 11, 1972
New York Times

Bernard Rosenberg was married to Marie Saltzman for 62 years and fathered three sons: Richard, who became an engineer; George, who entered retail sales; and Harry,who worked for Forstmann; and a daughter, Margery who did not enter the workforce. He passed away on July 13, 1972 at the age of 88.

 

Source:  Revere, Alan, “Bernard A. Rosenberg ­ Living the American Dream, 1886­1972,” July 1994/ December 2009, Alan Revere, San Francisco.