Born the first year of the 20th century to Jewish parents, Benjamin Buttonwieser was an active leader in the Jewish and general communities of New York City, where he was an enthusiastic resident.
Benjamin was the son of Joseph L. Buttonwieser, an important real estate investor in New York City. He grew up in his family’s Lenox Avenue home in Harlem, and began his studies at Columbia University at the tender age of 15. He was not allowed to later pursue a PhD because Columbia said he was not old enough, so he joined Kuhn Loeb, a real estate firm, where he became a runner.
He never went back to Columbia, but earned an honorary doctorate from there at the age of 76. At the age of 67, while he co-chaired a $200 million fund-raising campaign for Columbia, the Association of the Alumni of Columbia College gave him its most prestigious award: The Alexander Hamilton Medal.
Buttonwieler served as the president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York from 1938 until 1940. That organization later became the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. Joseph, Benjamin’s father held the same position in the 1920s, and his son, Lawrence was also the president of the same organization in the 70s.
Benjamin also was a member of the executive committee of the American Jewish Committee.