The Vagabond – 19th century local entrepreneur Samuel Berger

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By Danny Crownover

One of the most colorful of the old timers of Gadsden was merchant, capitalist and manufacturer Samuel W. Berger, who flourished in the 1880s and 1890s.

Born in Hungary on May 12, 1857, Berger came to America in June of 1870. Berger was educated in the schools of his native country but continued to study after arriving in America   until he possessed a fair English education.

Berger landed in New York City with an Austrian coin in his pocket valued at 40 cents in American money. But Berger possessed something more than money – a high degree of intelligence combined with ceaseless energy.

From New York, Berger moved to Nashville, Tenn., where for two years he did little else than attend school. In 1873, he moved to Tuscaloosa, where he worked as a salesman in a dry goods store for eight years. Berger came to Gadsden from Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1880. He soon established a store on the 400 block on the north side of Broad Street under the name of S.C. Berger and Company.

The business was an immediate success. After his partner, a Mr. Loveman, died in the spring of 1887, Berger became sole proprietor of the business. In the late 1880s, he moved the business into a new two-story brick storeroom at 509 Broad Street, where he conducted the Cincinnati Store, one of the largest in this part of Alabama.

Berger’s business competitors, who in reality were also his friends, noted that he had moved “out of town.” Berger soon proved that they were mistaken, for his store was the mecca of fashion in those days and his trade boomed to large proportions.

In addition to his mercantile interest in which he regularly carried stock valued at around $40,000, Berger was identified with various other interests. He was one of the incorporators and prime movers in the establishment of the Gadsden Metallic Paint and Mill and served as its vice president. He also was a large stockholder and vice president of the First National Bank.

Altogether, Berger was one of the active and progressive businessmen of Gadsden in the latter part of the 19th century. Berger was also one of the best dressed men in town and reportedly rode one of the finest saddle horses in the region.

Berger eventually moved back to Nashville, where he ran a modern department store. His Gadsden business was succeeded by Loveman & Sons, which later became Loveman & Reich.

Berger rarely returned to Gadsden after movnig back to Nashville, but he always had a soft spot in his heart for the city and never lost interest in its progress and development.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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