From Ohio History Central
Edward John DeBartolo, Sr., was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on May 17, 1919. His parents, Anthony and Rose Paonessa, had immigrated to the United States from Italy. DeBartolo never knew his father, who died before he was born. His mother then married Michael DeBartolo, and Edward took his stepfather's last name. Michael DeBartolo was involved in the construction industry, and Edward began to get work experience while still a teenager.
After graduating from high school, DeBartolo earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Notre Dame. With his engineering background, DeBartolo found himself serving in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. It was during the war, in 1944, that he married Maria Montani.
After the war ended, DeBartolo briefly served as president of his stepfather's construction company. He soon decided to found his own company, and in 1948 he started the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation. DeBartolo was able to take advantage of the dramatic changes occurring across the United States after World War II. As more and more Americans moved into suburbs, there was a corresponding increase in demand for convenient access to stores. DeBartolo's company was one of the first companies in Ohio, as well as across the United States, to build shopping centers in suburban communities. At first, these shopping centers were built in long strips, but soon DeBartolo began developing enclosed shopping malls as well. The DeBartolo Corporation became one of the most influential businesses in the shopping mall industry, owning almost one-tenth of all of the mall space in the United States. DeBartolo also branched out into other types of urban construction, such as hotels, office buildings, and condominiums. By the 1990s, DeBartolo was estimated to have more than $1.4 billion dollars in personal wealth. The corporation remained under the DeBartolo family's control, with Debartalo's daughter, Marie Denise York, and son, Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., heavily involved in the company's leadership.
DeBartolo became interested in department store chains in the 1980s. In 1988, he helped finance Robert Campeau's purchase of Federated Department Stores. He arranged to purchase the Dillard Department Stores, based in Cleveland, Ohio, that same year.The DeBartolo family has also been involved in professional sports. DeBartolo owned the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to purchase the Chicago White Sox in 1980. The baseball team owners voted against the purchase, fearing that he might have connections to organized crime. Although there had been some suspicion about DeBartolo's involvement in organized crime in the past, law enforcement had never found any evidence to support that theory. DeBartolo purchased the San Francisco 49'ers in 1977, giving the team to his son. DeBartolo Junior devoted significant resources to the team, helping to make it the most successful National Football League franchise in the 1980s. Under the leadership of quarterback Joe Montana, the 49'ers won the Super Bowl in 1982, 1985, 1989, and 1990.
Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., died in December 1994.