Morris Bernard Zale (1901 – 1995) came to Texas with his brother William and their parents Samuel and Libby Kruger Zalefsky (spelled Zalessky in some accounts) in the early 1900s from Shereshov, Russia. Samuel emigrated first and brought his family a few years later, first to New York and later to Texas. The family name Zale was “Americanized” from the name Zalefsky. The family initially settled in Fort Worth, where Morris’ uncle Sam Kruger was already established. Morris attended school in Fort Worth for a few years before he left to work in the jewelry store of his uncle Sam. In the early 1920s, Morris later managed a Kruger jewelry store in Burkburnett, Texas before he opened his own first store in a rented section of a drug store in Graham. There were few Jews in town, but Zale left Graham shortly afterward due to local Klan activity, eventually settling in Wichita Falls, Wichita County, Texas. The Zale brothers and Ben Lipshy (1910 – 1985) founded the company and opened their own store in 1924 at 8th Street and Ohio Avenue on the edge of downtown Wichita Falls. The building that housed their original store, formerly a Kruger outlet, is still standing in Wichita Falls.
Morris married Edna Lipshy in 1927. Edna was the daughter of Julius Lipshy (1873 – 1934) and Sarah Ethyl Korman Lipshy (1878 – 1957). Like the Zales, the Lipshys had come to the United States from Russia. Edna was one of several children including sisters Goldie, Mamie and Ida and brothers Harry, Ben and Sidney. The Lipshys also resided in Wichita Falls and had operated a small vegetable business.
Morris was one of the first jewelry businessmen in the area to widely begin using credit sales as early as the 1920s. At the time it was considered to be something of an innovation, but the brothers believed that dealing with payments on credit would draw customers to the store. Many members of the Zale and Lipshy families worked directly in the business. Zale was known to have commented that the two families were the keys to the business’ success. William Zale and Ben Lipshy further united the family by marrying two sisters from the Wichita Falls Weinstein family.
Zales weathered the Depression and in 1937, the company opened its first store in downtown Dallas on Elm Street, which was store number seven. By 1941, the company had twelve stores in Texas and Oklahoma. Its headquarters were moved to Dallas in 1946. As a further innovation, Zales was an early company to add a profit sharing plan for employees. The company continued to expand. It had begun as more of a discount jewelry operation but later by expansion, it added more high priced retail stores with the acquisition of Corrigans of Houston (in 1944) and other companies not in the jewelry business. Its website cites two more innovations when in the 1950s it installs a computer system and begins a program of management training. It opened the company’s first store in a shopping center in 1957. The company continued to expand and at one time was the largest jewelry company in the world. The company went public in its shares began trading on the American Stock Exchange in 1958.
The Zale and Lipshy families were known for their philanthropy and established the Zale Foundation in 1951 to support their charitable activities which included orphanages, educational institutions and the medical field. The foundation supported Bishop College, then located in Dallas and serving the African American community. The Zale Lipshy University Hospital was opened in Dallas, Texas in November 1989. The building that houses the hospital was constructed entirely by donated funds including the Zale and Lipshy families.
The company is no longer managed by family members after being run by the second generation of the family for many years. Zale Corporation was forced into bankruptcy by creditors in the early 1990s but emerged from the bankruptcy and was reorganized. In 2014, it was acquired by Signet Jewelers, then the largest specialty jewelry retailer in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
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