Sam Altman Family History
Samuel Harris Altman, better known as the tech entrepreneur Sam Altman, was born on April 22nd, 1985 to Jerry Altman and Connie Gibstine in Chicago. He grew up in St. Louis and was the oldest of their four children.
Computer literate by the time he was eight, he attended Stanford University in 2005, but – like earlier tech magnates Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg before him – dropped out to start his own business.
That business was Loopt, a mobile mapping app which told your friends where you were. It was an inspired idea (you can now find the feature in Google maps) and was ahead of its time. Consumers then never really bought in.
Loopt may have failed. But Paul Graham. the godfather of Silicon Valley startups, saw Sam’s potential and invited him to join his venture capital funding company Y Combinator. Then in 2014 Graham chose Sam – who at thirty-one was twenty years his junior – to succeed him as YC’s President. This put Sam at the front table of Silicon Valley startups, to mix with the great and the mighty in the industry.
The next year he co-founded with Elon Musk OpenAI, initially as a nonprofit company to explore the complexities of artificial intelligence. The two hired some of Silicon Valley’s most talented people to work on the project.
However, their company required major injections of cash as well. Musk was willing to provide this, but on his own terms. These terms were unacceptable and Musk left the project in 2018. Instead Sam and his colleagues found a new backer, Microsoft, who came up with the needed billion dollar investment.
Four years later, in November 2022, OpenAI astonished the world with their breakthrough ChatGPT when it was offered to the general public. In the next two months an astonishing 100 million used their system. AI became the talk of the world and Sam Altman, as the CEO of OpenAI, the spokesman and face of this new industry.
Fast forward a year and Sam Altman was headline news again. Sam was fired by the OpenAI board. But then within a week, after a threat of mass resignations by staff at the company, he was reinstated as CEO.
Polish Jews in Georgia
Sam’s ancestors Harry and Bertie Altman had arrived in America from Poland in the early 1900’s, but not much else is known about them. They came first to the small inland town of Nicholls in the Wiregrass region of Georgia.
Finding that place too constricting, they moved in 1920 to Brunswick, a bustling port city on the southeast corner of Georgia close by the border with Florida. There they raised their three sons – Sam, Jack and Sol.
The 1940 census showed them all living on G Street in Brunswick, with the exception of the youngest Sol who had already left home. He had married that year and moved to the nearby town of Thomasville where he practiced as a lawyer. The eldest son Sam meanwhile remained in Brunswick running Altman’s Store. Sam, interviewed later, talked about the development of the Jewish community in Brunswick.
The middle son Jack, Sam’s grandfather, was the one who left Georgia. He set off for St. Louis in 1942 and started Joy Shoemakers there. He then moved to Washington, Missouri, some 50 miles west of St. Louis, where he ran the Deb Shoe Co. for twenty-three years.
In later life Georgia called him back. He retired in 1980 to Jekyll Island, one of the Sea islands close by Brunswick. He went there with his second wife Thelma (his first wife Sylvia having passed away in 1958).
His three children by Sylvia had all left the coop by that time:
- Gail the eldest had moved to Zimbabwe in the 1970’s where she taught in a local school. She died there in 2008.
- Jack the middle child had married and made his home in Lawrence, Kansas
- while Jerry, the youngest and Sam’s father, had moved initially to Chicago and later back to St. Louis.
Sam’s Parents and Family Life
Sam’s parents were Jerry Altman and Connie Gibstine.
His father Jerry had started out as a real estate broker and was working full-time until his death, He had for many years involved himself in the promotion of affordable housing and, in his later years, in the reconstruction of historic buildings in St. Louis. He died in St. Louis from a heart attack aged sixty-eight in 2018. He had expressed a desire to retire in Costa Rica, but that of course never happened.
Meanwhile his mother Dr. Connie Gibstine is a board-certified dermatologist who has been taking care of patients at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis for over thirty years.
Jerry and Connie were married in 1977 and started out in married life in Chicago, where Sam was born, before moving to suburban St. Louis. Two more sons – Max and Jack – followed in two year intervals and then, six years later, came a girl Annie.
It is always difficult for an outsider to gauge the internal dynamics of a family, and perhaps particularly so in this case. The three boys were close, and also close to their mother Connie; while the younger Annie was clearly Daddy’s girl. Annie who had mental problems was devastated by his death in 2018 and took it out on her older brothers, particularly Sam, for ignoring her.
Connie had recognized that Sam was special and different. At the age of eight she gave him his first computer, an Apple Macintosh. Within a few months he had learnt how to program and disassemble the machine. He has been a vegetarian since childhood. And at sixteen he bravely came out at his prep school and announced that he was gay.
Connie also said: “Sam does keep an awful lot tied up inside. He’ll call and say he has a headache – and he’ll have Googled it so that there’s some cyber-chondria in there too. I have to reassure him that he doesn’t have meningitis or lymphoma, that it’s just stress.”
In later life Sam liked to have his younger brothers Max and Jack around because they knew him back at this time and could give him pushback in ways that others around him could not.
Sam Altman’s Family Tree
- Harry Altman (1877-1958) m. Verdi (Bertie) Schreiber (1883-1964), both from Poland, moved to Brunswick, Georgia in 1920
- – Samuel (Sam) Altman (1908-2004) m. Shirley Berlin, remained in Georgia
- – Jack Altman (1914-1980), moved to St. Louis
- – Sol Altman (1916-1983) m. Shirley Kahn, remained in Georgia
- Jack Altman from Georgia m. Sylvia Harris (1921-1958); then rem. Thelma McDowell from Kansas (b. 1923) and later on returned to Georgia
- – Gail Altman (1944-2008), moved to Zimbabwe
- – Jack Altman (b. 1947) m. Maureen, moved to Kansas
- – Jerold (Jerry) Altman (1950-2018), born in St. Louis
- Jerold (Jerry) Altman m. Connie Gibstine in Hartford, Connecticut in 1977, moved from Chicago to St. Louis, but may have separated by 2014
- – Samuel (Sam) Altman (b. 1985)
- – Max Altman (b. 1987)
- – Jack Altman (b. 1988) m. Julia Weigel
- – Annie Altman (b. 1994)
- Sam Altman, tech entrepreneur and gay married Oliver Mulherin in Hawaii in 2024
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