Theodore Thomas, German-born conductor, was the first and most important pioneer in the popularization of orchestral music in the United States. He was born in 1835 and came to this country in 1845. He founded his own symphony orchestra in 1862 and toured across the American continent from east to west, stimulating interest in the symphonic literature and the formation of other orchestras in several cities such as Boston and Philadelphia. He was appointed conductor of the Philharmonic Society of New York in 1876. Also in 1876, Thomas was appointed Musical Director of the Inaugural Ceremony at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In 1891, he founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which at his death in 1905 was considered by many notable throughout the world as the world's greatest orchestra. He introduced many new works to America including those of Saint-Saens, Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. His passing was mourned by millions everywhere throughout the world.
The death of Theodore Thomas was regarded as a national calamity, and memorial services and musical performances were held in his honor in nearly every city of the land. At his death, condolences were received by the widow from such personages as: Felix Weingartner, Jan Paderewski, Wilhelm Gericke, Richard Strauss, Lili Lehmann, Vincent D'Indy, William Mason, George W Chadwick, John Knowles Paine and Emil Paur. Statues and Monuments were erected at: Grant Park, Chicago; Cincinnati Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio (This statue was unveiled by President Theodore Roosevelt on May 6, 1910); Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass; Esens, Germany.
Reminiscences were published by: The New York Times, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Transcript, The Boston Herald, etc. Said the eminent John Tasker Howard, "Theodore Thomas is an epic figure in American history-one of our great heroes. Compare the state of musical culture at the time of the Civil War with conditions today and then thank Theodore Thomas for the difference. It is through his efforts that this country is the home of the best in orchestral music, that almost all major cities have symphony orchestras of the first rank, and what is more important, that in each of these cities there is a public that will listen to the finest symphonic works." - NRHP, 18 July 1973