Ben Davidson was the first of three brothers to come to Sioux City. Born in Slusk, Russia in 1858, he set off for America in 1880. He landed in New York with no money, no friends and no job. Within three days, however, he had a job with the India rubber comb factory on Long Island, earning just sixty to seventy-five cents a day. He set about learning the language and ways of his new country.
Ben heard about the many opportunities in the west, and made plans to improve his situation. He bought some tin goods and peddled his wares from town to town. He worked his way west until he arrived in Omaha, Nebraska. There, he became ill and had to stop for three months. When he recovered, he set out for Sioux City, arriving on July 10, 1881. When Mayor Swartz kindly allowed to him peddle his goods without a license, Ben decided to make Sioux City his home.
For two years, Ben sold his merchandise from house to house. Then he was able to buy a horse and wagon, and he could extend his business into the countryside. Ben became well known in the community and he made many friends. His business grew, and Ben carefully saved his money. By 1883, Ben was even able to send for his brother David and his sister Sippe. Dave arrived in Sioux City in October of 1883 and joined his brother in the peddling business. By the following summer, the two brothers were able to rent a little store on the corner of Fourth and Jennings.
Ben immediately started advertising, and the business became very popular. He printed flyers and handed them out all over town. Before long, the little store became too small, and they had to move to a larger store at Fourth and Jackson. When that space, too, became too small, the Davidsons moved to the corner of Fourth and Nebraska. That store soon grew to include the space next door, the second floor and the basement. It was one of the most popular stores in town.
Davidson’s brother Abe and sister Goldie joined the family. Using surplus stock, Dave Davidson opened an additional store in Sioux Falls and Abe started one in LeMars. Ben continued to manage the Sioux City store. The boys brought their mother to Sioux City in 1890.
As their business continued to grow, the Davidsons moved once more. They rented the store on the corner of Fourth and Pierce and leased the ground right behind it. They used the old Academy of Music Building as an addition. They built a new building and remodeled the existing store, creating “the most popular and central shopping place of Sioux City”. Dave and Abe returned to Sioux City to join Ben in the “Davidson Brothers Company”. Ben served as president, Dave as vice-president and Abe as secretary.
In April 1892, the Sioux City Times said: “Just think of a man coming to Sioux City ten years ago, a foreigner, unable to speak our language, and completely ignorant of the ways of the country, with a pack on his back, who is today one of the leading merchants of the leading city of the state, and whose success seems ephemeral, but has been proved. It reads like a fairy tale, but it is simply a story of hard work and native ability.”
The Davidsons rebuilt their store and added on to it until it was the largest department store in Iowa. The brothers believed in honest advertising. They also believed that their store should attract people from all economic levels and that they all should be welcomed with courtesy and respect.
By the 1920’s, the Davidson Brothers had established an international reputation. They made buying trips to Europe and the company had eight international offices. The business employed hundreds of clerks. Their store was the first in Sioux City to have a bargain basement, first to have a beauty parlor and first to provide motorized delivery.
In Sioux City, the Davidson brothers were active in the community. They established a real estate company that constructed the Davidson Building and the Insurance Exchange Buildings in downtown Sioux City. Their real estate business also planned and developed the Sunset View residential area. The development stretched from Valley Drive east to Summit Street. Acres of gullies, ditches and dumps were transformed into residential lots with paving, sidewalks, sewers, gas, water and electricity already installed. The addition was a great success.
Abe Davidson retired in 1926 and Ben died the following year. Dave died in 1931. After that, Dave’s two sons, Lawrence and Herman, ran the business.
The Davidson Brothers Company was sold to Younkers in 1947 and became Younker-Davidson’s. The business became simply “Younkers” in 1969.
Davidson Brother biography file, Sioux City Public Museum Research Center
Marks, Constant R, editor. Past and Present of Sioux City and Woodbury County, Iowa,
S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1904, Chicago
Sioux City Spirit of Progress, Volume 2, 1922
Sioux City Journal, September 30, 1934