(ca. 1855-Dec. 11, 1928). Born Herman Wilhelm Bloch, the founder of the william h. block company department store, came by steerage in 1874 from Trepezin, Hungary, to New York City. From 1874 to 1876 he stayed in New York to study to be a rabbi. He changed careers with financial help from an immigrant aid society, settled in Cleveland, Ohio, and began peddling dry goods in mining districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Initially, Block carried goods in a backpack, but he soon began carrying samples and shipping orders to customers. This venture was short-lived, and he tried other jobs, such as telegraphy and farm work, only to return to peddling. Cincinnati provided the locus for his journeys through southwestern Ohio and eastern Indiana.

The William H. Block Building, at North Illinois Street, 1937.
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Block and Abe Thalman, a Kokomo, Indiana, wholesaler, decided to pool their resources and in 1878 opened Block & Thalman Wholesale and Retail Department Store in Kokomo. Block & Thalman had branch stores in Anderson and Columbus. In 1894 Block withdrew from this partnership and went back to New York City to manufacture women’s apparel.

Two years later, he came to Indianapolis to open a department store on Washington Street between Illinois and Meridian streets. The store prospered and, in 1907, was incorporated as the William H. Block Company. In 1911 the company moved to the completed eight-story modern department store at Illinois and Market streets across from the Traction Terminal.

Block followed the example of Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker by establishing fixed prices with a small markup for his merchandise. He encouraged quick turnover of goods and was respected by his peers in the retail business. He was one of the founders of Merchant’s Heat and Light Company. Also, he supported civic enterprises and was a generous contributor to the Community Chest (a forerunner of United Way of Central Indiana), Riley Hospital for Children, and Butler University.

Revised June 2021
 

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