Palmer, Potter

Palmer, Potter

(1826–1902) merchant, real estate entrepreneur; born in Albany County, N.Y. He had his own dry goods stores in upstate New York before he moved to Chicago in 1852 and opened one there. His innovative practices—such as allowing customer returns and advertising and displaying merchandise—became known as the "Palmer system" and led to great success. Overworked and ailing, in 1867 he turned the store over to his partners Marshall Field and Levi Z. Leiter. After three years of recuperating in Europe, he returned to Chicago and became a real estate developer. Most of his early buildings were destroyed in the great fire of 1871 but he went right back to building even more roads, homes, and commercial structures. His Palmer House hotel soon became internationally famous. Active in civic affairs, he was commissioner of the South Side park system and the first president of the Chicago Baseball Club. His wife, Bertha Honoré Palmer, continued to manage his real estate empire and through her many philanthropic and cultural activities she became the "first lady" of Chicago.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.