May 12, 2020

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May is Jewish American Heritage Month. Institutions like the U.S. Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, and National Endowment for the Humanities, among others, join in paying tribute to the generations of Jewish Americans who have helped form the fabric of American history, culture and society.

One such Jewish-American who has had a significant role in our lives, and especially with millions of Chicagoans, is our founder, Abraham Epstein. Born in Odessa, Russia (today the Ukraine) in 1888, Abraham immigrated to the United States in 1906 after an anti-Jewish pogrom turned increasingly violent, resulting in the death of hundreds of Jews throughout the region. When Abraham, known for his interests in drawing and design, left Odessa, he made his way to New York City via the Hamburg-American Ocean Liner. He eventually landed in Chicagos south side and settled at 671 W. 14th Street. He quickly set about applying, and was subsequently accepted, to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to study engineering.


Collage: Abraham in pre-school; his drawings of Odessa ships; his ticket and baggage tag from his voyage from Europe to the U.S.; his first Chicago apartment; his acceptance letter to UIUC; and on campus at UIUC.

Abraham attended UIUC from 1907 to 1911, where he was very active in campus activities and a proud resident of the Cosmopolitan Club, the Universitys multi-cultural residence dormitory for international students.

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, in 1914, Abraham returned to Chicago, eventually becoming the structural engineer for S. Scott Joy, the famed architect for Chicagos Central Manufacturing District (CMD), the worlds first planned industrial development. Abraham served as Joys structural engineer for more than seven years. During that time, he gained the trust and support of the CMD, so much so that Abraham was urged by the CMD to form his own engineering firm to support the ever-growing CMD building needs. Therefore, on July 15, 1921, Abraham founded our firm, at the time called A. Epstein Structural Engineer, and set up his office in the CMDs iconic water tower building at 2001 Pershing Road. This not only has significantly impacted the lives of thousands of current and former staff members, but has also forever changed Chicago.

During Abrahams life, with the founding of our firm, Epstein has gone on to deliver a number of Chicagos iconic structures, such as the Harold Washington Library Center, Midway International Airport and two of the largest additions to the McCormick Place Convention Center. In addition to that, Abraham become a civic leader and played significant roles in developing the Chicago Building Code and served as a member of the Chicago Building Commission. Furthermore, Abraham was a prominent figure in the Chicago Jewish community, serving on the board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and becoming the president of Mt. Sinai Hospital.


Collage: Abraham with S. Scott Joy and colleague in August 1914; our first HQ in the CMDs Water Tower Building; images from various projects; industry and civic events.

In addition, Abraham played a central role in AEC-industry innovation, like being one of the first proponents of the Design-Build delivery method and playing a prominent role on the technical committees for professional organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and American Concrete Institute.

Abraham passed away in 1958, but, during his 70 remarkable years, he made a significant impact on Chicagos rebound from the Great Depression and shaped post-WWII growth. And he, of course, set the foundation for our firm, an organization that has offices in Chicago and New York as well as international locations in Warsaw, Poland and Bucharest, Romania.

Thank you, Abraham, for your remarkable achievements!