Arthur Somers was a self-made Brooklyn businessman who started work in a glass factory at the age of 9. After his father disappeared and left his mother with three young sons to raise, Arthur dropped out after school to help with the family finances. Having had only three years of schooling himself, education became his great interest in later life.

Arthur's first job was at a glass factory where he had the misfortune of breaking a glass. When the factory foreman came after him with a poker, a young female co-worker intervened, saying that he was only a child. He did not get hit, but both he and the young lady were fired! After that he worked in a tin factory. Years later when he was on the Board of Education, Arthur remembered that co-worker and helped her daughter get educated to become a teacher.

In 1886 Arthur joined the firm Pfeiffer and Lavanburg (Atlantic Colorworks of Brooklyn), which was where he made his fortune. The firm, which produced dry paints, was bought out by Fred Lavanburg and renamed the F. L. Lavanburg Company. Arthur was the Vice President and Treasurer, and eventually bought the firm himself. Later, his sons Andrew, Fred (named after Fred Lavanburg), Arthur Jr. all worked for F. L. Lavanburg.