Samuel H. Kress established his foundation in 1929, to provide for the purchase of works of art and their ultimate disposal at museums. Descended from early German-Lutheran settlers in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, Samuel Henry Kress was named for an uncle fallen at Gettysburg three weeks before his birth in 1863. He finished high school at age seventeen, and for seven years taught in a one-room schoolhouse with a salary of $25 per month. From this he managed to save enough money to buy a small stationery shop in Nanticoke, PA, and to add a wholesale firm in Wilkes-Barre based on the success of the shop. Appropriating Woolworth's marketing scheme, Kress opened his first 5-and 10-cent store in Memphis in 1896, and within a decade there were fifty Kress stores serving the south. The chain continued to proliferate to the west as well, under Samuel H. Kress's personal supervision. The headquarters were incorporated in New York City, where its founder established himself in a two story penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue. Kress filled this apartment with the expanding collection of Italian painting, sculpture and furnishings that he had begun to collect in the 1920s, and and it was there that he remained until his death in 1955. Kress had originally thought of establishing a public museum in New York City, but as Andrew Mellon's plans for the National Gallery unfolded Kress saw it as the perfect repository for his collection. In 1939 Samuel H. Kress became one of the founding benefactors of the National Gallery of Art; at its inauguration in 1941 Andrew Mellon's collection was augmented by 386 Italian paintings and 24 Italian sculptures from the Kress collection. Following Samuel's incapacitation by illness in the 1940s, the foundation was run by his surviving younger brother, Rush [d.1963]. After the war, the Kress Foundation acquired art with a goal of enriching and balancing the Gallery's collection, especially in the non-Italian schools. The Kress Foundation also established programs to share its collection with the nation: through the Regional Gallery program, 18 municipal museums received a core collection of between 20-60 paintings, and through the Kress Study Collection program 23 colleges and universities received paintings for their campus galleries.
A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Exh. cat. The North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Seattle Art Museum; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1994, 12-41.