Oscar Hammerstein was born in Stettin, Germany, in 1847. At the age of sixteen Hammerstein emigrated to the United States.
After settling in New York City Hammerstein found work in a cigar factory. He eventually made a large fortune by inventing a machine for spreading tobacco leaves. He also successfully invested in real estate.
Hammerstein wrote and composed the music for several theatre productions. Hammerstein also provided the money for the building of several theatres in New York, Philadelphia and London. This included the Manhattan Opera House (1906).
Oscar Hammerstein, whose grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote a series of successful musicals including Desert Song, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, died in 1919.