Filene, Edward A.

Filene, Edward A. (Albert)

(1860–1937) merchant, reformer; born in Salem, Mass. In 1881 he abandoned plans to attend Harvard and joined his ailing father and younger brother, Lincoln Filene, in a new venture, a clothing store in Boston. In 1891, as president, Edward launched a series of successful retail innovations including the "Automatic Bargain Basement," and a charge-plate system with cycle billing. He built William Filene's Sons into a prosperous department store but in 1928 he lost control to partners when he tried to turn over management to an employees' cooperative. For most of his life he believed that America's future lay in what he called "companionate prosperity"—cooperation among all levels and areas of society so that all would prosper. He was an avid supporter of Chambers of Commerce, and a proponent of credit unions. In 1909 he invited Lincoln Steffens to help reform Boston's government and municipal services. In 1919 he formed and endowed the Cooperative League (later the Twentieth Century Fund) to research national economic issues. Interested in cooperatives, he organized the Consumer Distribution Corporation in 1935 and also the Good Will Fund, Inc. (1936) to research public affairs enterprises. He wrote several books including Next Steps Forward in Retailing (1937). A bachelor, he left most of his fortune to the Twentieth Century Fund.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.