Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. (originally Anthony Paonessa) was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in May 1909. While in high school, he adopted the surname of his Italian immigrant stepfather and soon went to work in his construction business.
DeBartolo earned a degree in civil engineering from Notre Dame University. Following this, he again worked in his stepfather's building business. At the outbreak of World War II, he was commissioned into the Army Corps of Engineers.
DeBartolo returned to Youngstown after the war, married and got back into to the construction business. He formed the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation in 1945. The Post-War building boom was underway, with scores of families relocating from the inner city to newly-created, outlying suburbs.
This urban exodus created the need for scores of new homes. DeBartolo was quick to take advantage of this. Soon, his prefabricated dwellings were springing up around Youngstown. With these new neighborhoods came the need for more localized shopping options.
DeBartolo's first major shopping center, BOARDMAN PLAZA, was completed in June 1951. At the time, a grouping of stores built so far from a city center was considered sheer folly. However, the strip shopping plaza, deemed destined to fail by local realtors, proved successful.