Oscar Hammerstein I

Oscar Hammerstein I
Oscar Hammerstein I (left) with conductor Cleofonte Campanini in New York 1908.

Oscar Hammerstein I (8 May 1847 – 1 August 1919) was a businessman, theater impresario and composer in New York City. His passion for opera led him to open several opera houses, and he rekindled opera's popularity in America. He was the grandfather of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.


Cigar manufacturer

Oscar Hammerstein I was born in Stettin, Prussia, (now, Szczecin, Poland), to German-Jewish parents Abraham and Berthe Hammerstein. He took up music at an early age. His mother died when he was fifteen years old, and he fled his father, who maltreated him, to seek his fortunes in the United States, arriving in New York City in 1864. He worked sweeping the floor in a cigar factory. Ten years later, he founded the U.S. Tobacco Journal. He also moonlighted as a theater manager in the downtown German theaters.

He was an innovator in the tobacco industry and held patents for 52 inventions, 44 of them related to the cigar-manufacturing process. He became wealthy industrializing cigar manufacturing, and his tobacco fortune provided the money he used to pursue his theater interests.

Producer and impresario

He built his first theater, the Harlem Opera House, on 125th Street in 1889. His second theater, the Columbus Theatre, was built in 1890 on the same street. His third theater was the first Manhattan Opera House, built in 1893 on 34th Street. This failed as an opera house and was used, in partnership with Koster & Bial, to present variety shows. Disenchanted with the partnership, he opened a fourth venue, the Olympia Theatre, on Longacre Square, where he presented a comic opera that he wrote himself, Santa Maria (1896). Nine years later, Longacre Square was renamed Times Square, and the area had become, through his efforts, a thriving theater district.

Hammerstein built three more theaters there, the Victoria Theatre (1898), which turned to vaudeville presentation in 1904 and was managed by his son, Willie Hammerstein; the Republic Theatre was built in 1900 and leased to eccentric producer David Belasco, in 1901, and the Lew Fields Theatre for Lew Fields (half of the Vaudeville team Weber and Fields, and the father of lyricist Dorothy Fields), in 1904. He wrote a musical called Punch, Judy & Co. in 1903. Hammerstein also opened Hammerstein's Roof Garden above the Victoria and Republic theatres.

Grand opera and later years

In 1906, Hammerstein, dissatisfied with the Metropolitan Opera's productions, opened an eighth theater, his second Manhattan Opera House, to directly (and successfully) compete with it. He opened the Philadelphia Opera House in 1908, which, however, he sold early in 1910.[1]

He produced contemporary operas and presented the American premieres of Louise, Pelleas et Melisande, Elektra, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, Thaïs (opera), and Salome, as well as the American debuts of Mary Garden and Luisa Tetrazzini. Since Melba was disenchanted with the Metropolitan, she deserted it for Hammerstein's house, rescuing it financially with a successful season. He also produced the successful Victor Herbert operetta Naughty Marietta in 1910.

Hammerstein's high-quality productions were ultimately too expensive to sustain, and by his fourth opera season, he was going bankrupt. The costs at the Metropolitan, too, were skyrocketing, as the Metropolitan spent more and more in order to effectively compete. Hammerstein's son Arthur negotiated a payment of $1.2 million from the Metropolitan in exchange for an agreement not to produce grand opera in the United States for 10 years.

With this money, Hammerstein built his tenth theater, the London Opera House, in London, where he again entered competition with an established opera house, Covent Garden's Royal Opera company. He had run through his money in two years and thereupon returned to America.

With money obtained selling the sole booking rights to the Victoria Theatre, he built his eleventh and final theater, the Lexington Opera House. Unable to present opera there, he opened it as a movie theater, selling it shortly thereafter.

At his death in 1919, with his contractual ban on presenting opera due to expire in 1920, he was busy planning his return to the opera stage.

The Manhattan Opera House on 34th Street in New York City was renamed the "Hammerstein Ballroom" at the Manhattan Center Studios in his honor.

Broadway credits

Hammerstein family

Hammerstein had two sons, Arthur and Willie. Arthur continued the family business as an opera and Broadway producer, director, theater owner, and songwriter. Willie managed Oscar's Victoria Theatre, and Willie's son, Oscar Hammerstein II was one of Broadway's most influential lyricists and bookwriters, as well as a director and producer.


  1. ^ "Philadelphia Opera House" at the New International Encyclopedia
  2. ^ "Olympia Theatre Opened", The New York Times, September 25, 1896, p. 3.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Oscar Hammerstein II — Oscar Hammerstein (rechts) mit Richard Rodgers] (links) und Irving Berlin (1948) Oscar Hammerstein II (* 12. Juli 1895 in New York City; † 23. August 1960 in Doyle …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Oscar Hammerstein — (rechts) mit Richard Rodgers] (links) und Irving Berlin (1948) Oscar Hammerstein II (* 12. Juli 1895 in New York City; † 23. August 1960 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania) war e …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Oscar Hammerstein I — Hammerstein (l.) mit dem Dirigenten Cleofonte Campanini (1908) Oscar Hammerstein I (* 8. Mai 1847 in Stettin, Vorpommern, heute Polen; † 1. August 1919 in New York City) war ein US amerikanischer Theater und Opernproduzent …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Oscar Hammerstein II — Oscar Hammerstein II. Oscar Hammerstein II, (12 de julio de 1895 † 23 de agosto de 1960) fue un libretista estadounidense, que nació y murió en Nueva York. Biografía Fue sobrino de Oscar Hammerstein I y d …   Wikipedia Español

  • Oscar Hammerstein — may refer to: Oscar Hammerstein I (1847–1919), cigar manufacturer, opera impresario and theatre builder Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960), Broadway lyricist, songwriting partner of Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers This disambiguation page lists… …   Wikipedia

  • Oscar Hammerstein — puede referirse a: Oscar Hammerstein I (1847–1919), hombre de negocios, director de ópera y compositor. Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960), libretista, productor y director de musicales. Esta página de desambiguación cataloga artículos relacionados …   Wikipedia Español

  • Oscar Hammerstein II — Oscar Hammerstein II, (1895 1960) libretista norteamericano, nacido y muerto en Nueva York. Fue sobrino de Oscar Hammerstein I, propietario del Manhattan Opera House. Ganó fama con una serie de comedias musicales y operetas: ● Sunny (1924), ●… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Oscar Hammerstein II — For collaborative work with Richard Rodgers, see Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oscar Hammerstein II Hammerstein watching hopefuls being auditioned on stage at the St. James Theatre Background information …   Wikipedia

  • Oscar Hammerstein II — Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II et Helen Tamiris en 1948 (de gauche à droite) Oscar Hammerstein II, né le 12 juillet 1895 à New York, New York et mort le 23 août 1 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Oscar Hammerstein — noun United States lyricist who collaborated on many musical comedies (most successfully with Richard Rodgers) (1895 1960) • Syn: ↑Hammerstein, ↑Oscar Hammerstein II • Instance Hypernyms: ↑lyricist, ↑lyrist * * * Oscar …   Useful english dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.