Henry Crown was born in Chicago in 1896. After being fired from his job as a shipping clerk for dispatching a load of sand instead of gravel, Crown and his brother started a company that sold steel. In 1919, Crown and another brother founded a material supply firm, Material Service Corp. (MSC), which they steadily built into one of the country's leading construction companies.
At the age of 45, Crown served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. Upon his return, Crown began to diversify his business interests, which included defense contracting, mining, farming, trucking, and recreation. His company was part owner of the Chicago Bulls and the New York Yankees. He had a significant stake in General Dynamics, Alltel, Crown Theaters, and real estate, including the purchase of the Empire State Building in 1951 for $51.5 million. He built Henry Crown and Company into one of the nation's leading investment groups.