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NYT August 16 1990|
Joan Cook: Obituary
Henry Crown , Industrialist, Dies; Billionaire, 94, Rose From Poverty
Henry Crown, the billionaire whose life exemplified the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story of American industrialists, died Tuesday at his Lake Shore Drive apartment in Chicago. He was 94 years old.
Mr. Crown had been ailing for some time, a family spokesman said.
Henry Crown was the patriarch of one of America's greatest fortunes, recently estimated at $2 billion by Chicago magazine. It includes millions made in hotels, buildings, railroads, meat packing, coal, sugar, recreation and the aerospace industry. The family ranks 11th nationally in wealth, according to Forbes Magazine. Most of the fortune is in the hands of Mr. Crown's relatives, who began receiving portions of his wealth for tax purposes as early as 1925.
At the time of his death, Mr. Crown was honorary chairman of the General Dynamics Corporation. He retired in 1986; his son, Lester, is now chairman.
Among his other holdings, Mr. Crown acquired a major interest in the Empire State Building in New York City in 1951 for $10 million. After gaining control of the building, which he then renovated, Mr. Crown sold it in 1961 at a reported profit of $32 million. He had ''lost interest in it,'' he said.
Left School in Eighth Grade
Mr. Crown was named Henry Krinsky at birth, the third of seven children of a Lithuanian immigrant sweatshop worker, Arie Krinsky, and his wife Ida. His father changed the family name to Crown while Henry was a boy.
He left school in the eighth grade and after a number of jobs, he and an older brother, Sol, started a business selling steel in 1915. Sol later died of tuberculosis.
Mr. Crown's first deal in the steel business resulted from research and bold negotiations, traits that became emblematic of his career. He had brokered the sale of 20 tons of steel from Inland Steel, which asked for a financial statement from the fledgling company.
The week-old S. R. Crown & Company had $50 in the bank and shared its office with another business. Instead of showing a financial statement, Mr. Crown showed a letter from a bank guaranteeing the purchase.
The Inland credit manager said to him: ''We don't do business that way, kid. We're selling to you, not to the bank.''
Mr. Crown said, ''Mr. Sullivan, do you question the credit of the Irving Park National Bank for $1,200?'' ''Well, no,'' the credit manager said. ''Thank you for the steel,'' he replied.
Role in Chicago Landmarks
In 1919, joined by a third brother, Irving, Mr. Crown founded Material Service Company, a sand, gravel, lime and coal business, with a borrowed $10,000. Over the years, the building materials company participated in the construction of various Chicago landmarks, including the Loop railway, the Merchandise Mart and the Civic Opera.
In 1959, the Crown family merged its Material Service Corporation into the General Dynamics Corporation, with Crown interests retaining a controlling block of stock. In 1960 Henry Crown became a director of the military contracting concern and later was the chairman of its executive committee, setting the stage for a corporate power struggle that typified Mr. Crown's dogged refusal to accept a defeat.
In 1966 he was forced out when the board, guided by Roger Lewis, the chief executive brought in by a committee Mr. Crown had headed, redeemed Mr. Crown's controlling block of preferred stock.
But four years later, Mr. Crown was back. After buying up large blocks of General Dynamics stock, he announced to shareholders that he not only held effective control of the company, but also had selected Roger Lewis's successor, David S. Lewis, who later became president and chief operating officer of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation.
''All we've got is another Lewis, and I think we've got as good a man as we can find,'' he said at the time.
Known as Colonel Crown
Mr. Crown was known as a shrewd businessman who did his homework before entering a deal.
''When the Colonel gets into a deal,'' a real estate executive once said of him, ''he knows the size of your underwear.''
In World War II, Mr. Crown was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Army Corps of Engineers and ever after was known as Colonel Crown, an affectation he neither encouraged nor stopped.
Mr. Crown's personal style was reported to be self-effacing and elusive. For years he shuttled between his Chicago office, his Miami winter retreat and his suite in the Waldorf Towers in New York, always with an eye for opportunities. He would portray himself as a ''sand and gravel man'' of limited education, veiling his moves and quietly consolidating his power.
He built a substantial reputation for philanthropy. By the time he was 79, he said, he had given away ''nine figures'' in two decades, much of it to universities as diverse as Northwestern, Stanford and Brandeis.
The Crown family has made major contributions to the Henry Crown Space Center at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place and the Rebecca Crown Center at Northwestern University. The center was named for his first wife.
''My goal since the end of World War II, and I think I've attained it, is to have less money at the end of the year than I had at the beginning of the year,'' he said in a 1971 interview. ''I don't need it. It's needed elsewhere - philanthropy, the charitable funds, other members of our family.''
In addition to his son, Lester, of Chicago, Mr. Crown is survived by his wife, Gladys; a second son, John J., a Cook County judge, of Chicago; 15 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.