Around 1910, five brothers — Henry, Irving, Robert, Benjamin, and Arnold Schwartz — founded Paragon Oil in New York City as an oil distribution company, to supply the residential buildings that now had their new oil burners installed. As time went on, the company focused less on building the burners and more on storing and delivering the fuel. Several of the brothers' first cousins, including the sons of Sam's younger brother Barney and one of Lena's cousins, also joined the operation. However, some of them chose to adopt different surnames in the workplace, including "Harvey" and "Lawrence", so that it would not be immediately obvious that most of the people working in the upper levels of the company had the last name Schwartz, and thus were related. Avoiding public anti-Semitism was also a contributing factor to the cousins' surname changes; indeed, even some of the five brothers' first names were different than those on their birth certificates and early census records, changed to sound less overtly Jewish. For example, Arnold's real first name was Abraham.
Most of the brothers used the profits from the sale to co-found the Brookdale Foundation, whose research focuses on gerontology and geriatric medicine. They also endow many other charitable enterprises, primarily centered in the New York metropolitan area. These include the Metropolitan Opera at then-newly-built Lincoln Center, several buildings and lecture programs at New York University, several New York City and Long Island hospitals, Park Avenue synagogue, a foundation for gifted youth, and at least three well-respected graduate schools founded in the mid-1950s. Eldest brother Henry Schwartz was married quite late in life to a former nun named Caroline Di Donato, and thus also endowed many Catholic charities and organizations.
Paragon oil was founded by brothers Henry, Irving, Robert, Benjamin, and Arnold Schwartz. The brothers, and their sister Bess, were first-generation Americans, all born between 1896 and 1909 in Brooklyn, New York.
Their parents were Samuel "Sam" (Chernofski) Schwartz born circa 1868 and Lena Krakofsky born circa 1874, who were Jewish immigrants from the town of Belaya Tserkov (Bila Tserkva), near Kiev, today located in Ukraine, who had immigrated to the United States around 1895. The family's original surname had been Chernofski. Samuel's occupation had originally been as a leading Blacksmith who owned many horses, wagons, and vast property near and around Belaya Tserkov. Samuel's father, Chaim Yael "Hyman" Chernofski was part of the Russian aristocracy and close confidant of Czar Alexander II (1855 - 1881), and Czar Alexander III (1881 - 1894), before being ousted (killed?) in the purges under Czar Nicholas II (1894 - 1917). Chaim married Gittel "Gertrude" (Bobrusky) Priletzky, daughter of Max (Bobrusky) Priletzky and Sarah Fuchs. Chaim and Samuel had started the family into the Whale Oil business during the late 1880s. After the purges in the early 1890s, one part of the family decided to go to America, while others stayed behind in Russia to continue the exporting of Whale Oil. The family immigrated through the port of Bremen, Germany, where their name was changed to the German word for black, "Schwartz". They traveled to London, England during the early part of 1895 to strengthen contacts they had previously made with the Royal Court of Queen Victoria that would serve them later with Paragon Oil. According to old family documents, the family finally traveled to America during late 1895 as First Class passengers on the White Star liner Teutonic.
When they were young, elder brothers Henry and Irving went door-to-door in Brooklyn carrying around sacks of coal on their backs, peddling the coal to the nearby homes and residential buildings to earn extra money for their family. At that time, some large commercial buildings had oil-fired furnaces, but residential buildings did not. Since their father Samuel was a blacksmith, and their relatives back in Ukraine were involved in the whale oil business, this combination of factors led to the brothers experimenting, designing, and finally building the first oil heaters designed for residential buildings, which eventually earned the family several patents on the design.
Sam Schwartz died sometime between 1920 and 1930, Lena Schwartz died in 1941. Henry Schwartz died in January 1983, Irving died in April 1974, Robert died in November 1971, Benjamin (Ben) died in July 1969, and Arnold died in September 1979. Bess Schwartz Levy died probably in 1958. However, one of the Schwartz first cousins who had worked for the company, the son of Sam's brother Barney, is still alive. He is nonogenarian Jack Lawrence (née Jacob Schwartz), a well-known songwriter and former president of ASCAP. His purported date of birth is circa 1912.