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Albert J. Wood, Market Researcher and Philanthropist, Dies at 95

August 31, 2006
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Albert J. Wood, 95, a national businessman who had a considerable reputation in philanthropy, scholarly studies and the arts, died Aug. 7 at home in Philadelphia. He is best known for his establishment of Dropsie College, now known as the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Philadelphia, and the Middle East Forum.

Wood studied at Osteopathic College and Villanova University. Instead of pursuing a medical career, he entered the business world and became a pioneer of the credit-card industry. He was among the first to market them for corporations and banks.

In the 1930s he persuaded Lit Brothers -- a major department store in Philadelphia at the time -- to offer charge cards to customers.

His company, A.J. Wood Research, was responsible for many "firsts" in U.S. marketing initiatives, and from the late 1940s and throughout the '50s and '60s was one of the top market researchers in the country. He worked with the U.S. government and the motion-picture industry, as well as other organizations on behalf of a "Who's Who" of U.S. corporations, including Gerber's, Minute Maid, Heinz, Gillette, General Foods, Borden's, Nestles, Scott Paper, Volkswagen and Wrigleys.

Wood and his staff measured consumer attitudes to new and existing products, such as whether or not cellophane wrapping for products was effective (DuPont), TV screen-size preferences in '52 (Sylvania), as well as taste preferences for beer and whiskey.

His love of the arts prompted him to open the A.J. Wood Galleries in Philadelphia, where his goal was to encourage young artists. Later, he joined the board of managers of the Moore College of Art & Design, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Zionist Organization of America and Abilities, Inc. of Long Island.

Wood handed over management of his business to his sons, David Wood and Peter Wood, in 1977, but didn't retire; he focused his energies and marketing expertise elsewhere. That happened to be Dropsie College (named after Moses Aaron Dropsie), for many years the intellectual and scholarly center for Judaic studies in America, located at Broad and York streets in North Philadelphia. Elected as Dropsie's board chairman in 1983, he decided to direct his energies toward saving the college, which had fallen on hard times.

Wood attracted prominent figures such as Walter H. Annenberg, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, to support the college. In 1988, the college was renamed the Annenberg Research Institute after its key financial benefactor, and began life in a new building at 420 Walnut St. It became a world-renowned institution for postgraduate studies in Judaica.

In 1992 the Annenberg Institute merged with the University of Pennsylvania and became part of the university family, now known as the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

In 1995, the Center and Penn acknowledged Wood's "outstanding service and commitment" to the center by naming the Albert J. Wood Board Room in his honor. In 2005 the center established the Albert J. Wood Fellowship.

In addition to his sons, Wood is survived by his wife, the former Ele Wapner Larrea; daughter Geraldine Rosenberg; stepsons Gaizka Idoeta Larrea and Zuri Idoeta Larrea; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Wood was predeceased by his first wife, the former Johanna Cutler, in 1977.

A memorial service will be held on Sept. 17, at 2 p.m., at the Society Hill Synagogue, 418 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19106.

Memorial contributions can be made to: The Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania, 420 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106-3703; or to the Middle East Forum, 1500 Walnut St., Suite 1050, Philadelphia, PA 19102.

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