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Peter C. (left) and Shepherd Brooks. Harvard University Archives.

Believing that Chicago would soon be America’s largest city, wealthy Boston brothers Peter and Shepherd Brooks hired Owen Aldis to manage their expanding real estate investments. Shepherd wrote to Aldis, “I need not say that you have been a very satisfactory agent and that we should…hope that the same favorable relationship may continue as long as possible.”

The brothers preferred obscurity, calling themselves “practical farmers” (multimillionaires with a 400-acre estate) “who never actively engaged in business” (except for their real estate empire in Chicago). Peter had informed Aldis that “my brother is an invalid and desires to avoid personal application or correspondence,” though Shepherd participated extensively.

Not the typical absentee landlords—though only Peter visited Chicago once—they absorbed each detail of a project. In thousands of letters and telegrams, Aldis kept them abreast of land transactions and values, local politics and gossip, and construction concerns.

© 2012 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation