May 8, 2012 - Oscar Hammerstein's Birthday

 No, not THE Oscar Hammerstein.

If people recognize the name Oscar Hammerstein at all, they are almost always thinking of our birthday boy's grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, who joined Richard Rodgers in writing many famous songs for many famous musicals. (Think Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, and more!)

Not the guy I mean.

Today's birthday boy was born on this date in 1847, in Prussia (Germany), and like his grandson-to-come, he loved music. Hammerstein's father wanted him to study academic subjects instead, and was a strict disciplinarian, from what I read—so Hammerstein ran away to America!

Just 17 years old when he arrived in New York City, Hammerstein got a job working in a cigar factory. He worked his way up to becoming a cigar maker; he also founded a journal about cigars and even invented better cigar-making machines—80 patents' worth of inventions! Hammerstein ended up making a fortune on tobacco.

But he didn't forget his love of music. Instead, he used his fortune to build theaters in Harlem and Manhattan, and eventually Philadelphia and London. He began to present operas and other entertainments in those theaters. His efforts apparently kicked off a new popularity for operas in America!

One of Hammerstein's theaters was built in the late 1890s on Longacre Square. Perhaps you've seen pictures of what that square looks like today. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention—these days, it's called Times Square!

All in all, Hammerstein built eleven theaters and opera houses, spearheaded the growth of opera and other entertainment in New York City's Manhattan, and started a family legacy of musical entertainment as well!

Also on this date:

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